Vintage Snapshots

the wondrous world of vernacular photography

Category: Backgrounds


Funny vintage sna[shot man seems to have fountain emerging from head

Circa 1920s (click to enlarge)

Another in the “backgrounds” series.



Funny vintage snapshot featuring woman who appears to have birds flying out of her hair

Fly away, circa 1950s (click to enlarge)

Another in the classic background series (sample here).

Branching Out

Vintage photo of a man standing in front of a tree, with the branches appearing to rise from his hat

“Mantlers” (c 1920s)

Another in the “Backgrounds” series (sample here). While many of these of course seem inadvertent, I have to wonder whether they weren’t trying for this one.


Vintage snapshot of a baby who appears to have a halo and bottle sticking out of his head

Quite a kid (circa 1940s)

Another in the “background” series, I love how this baby’s head seems both to be surrounded by a halo and to have a bottle sticking out of it. This was found in the Bay Area and was likely taken somewhere in San Francisco or the East Bay. I wonder if any trace of the sign remains. There is something appealing about the old signs that were hand-painted on buildings (as this was one was; you can see the lines of the siding running through it), and there are several websites devoted to ones that remain, sometimes called “ghost signs.”

Here is a link to a 2005 New York Times article on them, and some nice examples can be found on this flickr page, titled “Vanishing Beauty.”

Here is a close-up of Coke baby.

Detail of baby with Coca-cola bottle 'emerging' from head

Drink Coca-Cola


Window Onto a New World: The Curved Dash Oldsmobile

Man sits in early Ford automobile outside house while people stare through window

What looks to be an early Ford is the object of attention on the street

I found this shot over the weekend, and realized when I looked at it a little more closely at home that it may well depict a version of Henry Ford’s first car, something he completed in 1896 and called – in a nod, I assume, to the fact that it used bicycle components for its seat, tires, chain, etc. – the quadricycle. I have since learned that the car in the photo is a Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Notable for having been the first mass-produced automobile, it was produced from 1901 to 1907, with something over 19,000 being made in total.

Below is a photo of Henry Ford in a similar, earlier automobile, which had a two-stroke engine and could travel at about 20mph.

Early Ford automobile, the quadricycle, with Henry Ford driving

Henry Ford on his quadricycle; if that is a steering wheel in the reflection at left, his early machine was already old-fashioned at the point this was taken

What I find so great about this photo, however, is not just the car. It is the fact that if you look closely (and I have enlarged the relevant section below) you can see a woman holding a baby up to the window right behind the driver’s head. It would possibly have been one of the first times either had seen an actual automobile. What a different world was coming. One in which, among other things, parking would never be so easy again.

People gaze out of a window at the newest thing: the car

Gazing out at a new world (click to enlarge)

Wired Woman

Vintage 1960s image of a woman posing in front of a telephone pole

Well-placed woman (circa 1960s negative)

Following up on a previous post about heads intersecting with background elements, here is another example of a woman captured without too much attention having been paid to where she was standing – unless, of course, they were actually trying to give her head that extra ‘something’.

In the Background

1920s photograph of females embracing, small girl in far background

The girl in the corner, circa 1920s (click to enlarge)

I often find it intriguing when there is a person in the background who is captured (usually) by chance – such as the young girl tucked away near the corner of the house, looking towards the camera (which you can make out more clearly when you enlarge the image).

Fly Me

Vintage photograph of a woman in curious circumstances

Wing woman, circa 1920s

I have a strange fascination with photos that feature people against background elements that seem as if they could be coming out of their heads. With this one I first thought of some sort of aerial or antenna, but also a biplane (if you ignore that third level around her collarbone area). Call me crazy. As something of a photographer, though, I can attest to how hard it is to always be aware of every last detail when clicking the shutter – probably especially with a camera that may have required a little more attention in terms of setting the exposure, etc. than the more automatic models a person would tend to use today. But still…

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