Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Simpsons are vast

I've written a few times about photographic references in The Simpsons. For example, an O. Winston Link here, and the nature of digital shooting here. Based on these cases it was clear that someone on the production team had a photo jones, but it wasn't until recently that I learned the full extent of it.

Yesterday I discovered a page cataloguing dozens of Simpsons photographic references, all in one handy-to-browse location. What a resource! Many of the photos are iconic, but there are some obscure images too. Watching a full episode they would whizz right by even if you were wellversed in photographic history. I'm not sure who the target audience was. Maybe they were inside jokes between production staffers? For amateur photo junkies like me, the page is a gold mine. To whoever researched all those photographs, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

An example from the Simpsons Park photo page

Of course the thing that got me thinking about all this was a Simpsons episode which popped recently up on the DVR, show #KABF02 from 2007. About 15 minutes in is a sequence in which Homer remembers his life in a series of still-frames from birth. It's a direct reference to Noah Kalina's Everyday video which circled the internet like wildfire a few years ago. The homage is spot-on, even down to the original music by Carly Comando.

Kalina's project is still going, by the way, updated here. In addition to The Simpson, it has spawned countless imitators which you'll find by typing "everyday" into YouTube search.

So the Simpsons re-interpreted a video of a person re-interpreting himself every day which has set off a mini-explosion of other re-interpretations. Are we keeping track of the iterations here?

Taking it one layer beyond, Kalina's project itself was a re-interpretation of the alltime king of daily photo diaries, Karl Baden's Every Day, running continuously since 2/23/87. Whereas Kalina added music and varying backgrounds to give it some crossover appeal, Baden's project is much more stripped down. It's Baden against a blank wall, no soundtrack. Harder to imagine a Homer homage.

5.2.10 - 6.5.10, Karl Baden

I think these rephotographic projects are pretty fascinating, especially as they go on for years. Borderline obsessive maybe, but also strangely entrancing.

For some reason, neither the Kalina reference nor the O. Winston Link reference are cited on the Simpsons Park page. The Simpsons are vast. Every single episode has hundreds of cultural references, and huge gaps in the research remain. Can someone get on that?


Anonymous said...

I'd say that almost all of those images were iconic and familiar to anyone over a certain age. So I'm not so sure that the writers were necessarily photo geeks. Now if they had shown a Gursky, Frank or Baltz then you might have more of a case. But it's interesting all the same.

Blake Andrews said...

It's true that most of these photos have enough crossover appeal to be general pop culture references. Still, the relatively obscure ones (Stoughton, Link, weeping French man, e.g.) reveal deep digging.

Also, keep in mind it's very easy to see the reference when a still frame is shown side by side with the original. In the cartoon the frame might appear for 1/2 second, too quick for most people to notice. Which raises the question, who is the target audience? Or is there one?

Marc said...

There are so many every day self-portraits out there, but I agree that there is something oddly fascinating about them. I do have one that has been running for longer than Karl Baden's: Hiromi Tsuchida's Ageing which has been going on since mid-1986. A very high-speed slideshow runs on his homepage and he has also made a DVD of the series.

Anonymous said...

That's true Blake that there were some more obscure references and it's also true that most of the time these images are fleeting on screen. But that's the way the Simpson's are anyways. I remember the first time I had to 'freeze frame' the Simpsons was to find out how much Maggie cost when she was scanned through the cashier in the opening sequence. I wonder at how many references we've missed over the years?

Blake Andrews said...

Thanks for the tip, Marc. I hadn't seen that series before. What was in the air back in the 80s that made so many folks start these at once?