Vintage Snapshots

the wondrous world of vernacular photography

Category: Photographer Shadows

Baseball Glove

Vintage 1960s photo of serious boy looking at his baseball glove alongside his red bicycle

America, 1960s (click to enlarge)

There isn’t much to really say here, except that this is why snapshots are great.

A Depression-Era Portrait

Vintage 1930s snapshot of girl in front of screen door

Minnesota, 1939 (click to enlarge)

This photo didn’t jump out at me at first when I came across it in an album I recently picked up, but in looking at it again it struck me as possessing that simple beauty that snapshots are sometimes able to so singularly capture. There is a Minnesota processing stamp on the back dated April 1939, and so much about it conveys that Depression-era feel, from her dress to the house on blocks with no step up to the screen door. The dusty car in the background, her expression, the composition — it doesn’t, to be sure, scream “Great Depression” like some of the well-known images from that time, but it is, I think, deeply evocative in it own understated way.


City Views: Detroit’s Madison Theatre

Three "flapper" women stand in front of the former Madison Theatre in Detroit, 1920s

A sunny day in Detroit's theater district, circa 1920

This photo shows the Madison Theatre – part of what was then Detroit’s theater district, Grand Circus Park – at right. The theater itself no longer exists, but the office building that it was part of is still there. (Apparently many theaters of the 1910s and ’20s were built attached to office structures in case motion pictures turned out to be a passing fad.) Constructed in 1916, the theater sat just over 1800 people and was, as says, “a key link between the small Detroit theaters of the turn of the century and the extravagant movie palaces that would rise in the 1920s.” The Madison would go on to be the first theater in Michigan to screen a feature-length talking picture when it showed “The Jazz Singer” at the end of 1927. It closed in 1984. The last movie shown was “The Dead Zone,” and the title remained on the marquee for years.

Here is a shot of the remains of the lobby taken by David Kohrman of the excellent, just before the space was razed in 2000.

The staircase in the lobby of the Madison Theatre in ruins before demolition

The remains of the staircase in the lobby of the Madison Theatre, 2000 (David Kohrman)

It’s a little blurry, but here is a view of the lobby in its heyday.

Photo of the lobby of the Madison Theater in its prime, circa 1920s

The Madison in its prime

Lastly, here is a fuller view of the exterior around the time the snapshot would have been taken, although the marquee is slightly different.

Vintage image of the Madison Theatre facade, circa 1920s

Detroit's Madison Theatre, circa 1920s

The building that housed the theater seems to be doing well. According to a story on CBS Detroit from earlier this year, “the 1917-vintage Madison Theatre Building — now rechristened The M@dison by its new owner, Dan Gilbert and his Rock Ventures LLC — has been given a spectacular $12 million makeover into some of the coolest work space anywhere.” Coincidentally, the same year the theater space was demolished, the Detroit Tigers’ new stadium, Comerica Park, opened up nearby, and they say there is a great view of the ballpark from the upper floors. That sounds pretty good, but I can’t help envying the women in the snapshot, who could have gone to see Ty Cobb at the old Tiger Stadium (known as Navin Field in that era) – perhaps that very afternoon.

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…

More Shadow

Vintage photo of a dog standing on the luggage box of a car.

Dog with Shadow (1920s)

Apart from the fact that that might be a French bulldog – I’m not sure – this could be seen as a pretty “American” image, with the car, dog and Coke sign. Interestingly, though, it looks like this photographer was holding the camera to their face, not at waist level as in the previous post’s photos.


Vintage snapshot of a a couple kissing, with photographer shadow

Kiss with Shadow (1940s)

Something you often see in vintage snapshots is not just a shadow cast by the photographer, but one in which you can tell they are looking down through the camera rather than holding it to their face. That was, of course, just the way a lot of cameras were configured at the time. It also resulted – however slightly – in a different perspective, with the camera at waist height rather than the height of the subjects’ heads. I think you can see that here. Just another thing that gives these old images a little bit of their charm.

I also love this one, with its partial shadow, where you again can see the arms holding the camera at waist level.

Vintage photo of a happy couple on tree stump, with photographer shadow.

Couple (1920s)


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