Growing Old Sucks: Happy Birthday to Me
Today’s my birthday, and instead of mourning the fact that I’m one year closer to 40, I’m going to briefly go through my current top 10 stereoviews that have been posted to Brooklyn Stereography to date. My wife won’t be home for a couple of hours, so I have a bit of time to kill. And why not? Obviously, this is subject to the same problem all top 10 lists are: it’s indicative my thoughts right now. With music, one day it might be all Leonard Cohen, and the next day it might be 80% Leonard Cohen.
Being that I only have a couple of hours, though, the choices are obviously hasty. Thus I’ve decided to cull only from scans that I’ve already anaglyphed and posted in previous blog posts. When my beautiful bride returns home, we’ll be celebrating my birthday in style, with a nice dinner and a viewing of a Jan Troell film. (And no, not The Emigrants for the millionth time, though that’s obviously on the favorites list.) So this is a “quickie” effort, and I’m obviously going to miss views that should be included. No matter. It’s a fun little smorgasbord – take it or leave it! Views will count down from 10; clicking on the images will bring you to the relevant Brooklyn Stereography post.
10. An anonymous amateur view of a girl on the street, from One-shot #4
What I love about this stereoview now is what I loved about it when it showed up quite unexpectedly in October. It very much reminds me of the works of my favorite photographer, Diane Arbus. Had she not tragically taken her life before her 50th birthday, who knows what wonders she might have created? I love amateur photography in general because it has a candor to it that much commercial work doesn’t. Arbus created works that are decidedly unstaged, raw, and real. So did the anonymous stereographer behind this street scene. I love this image, and the depth is fantastic.
9. A band of brothers (French “Hairies”), from the Wilfred Owen post
Since I posted this, I’ve obtained my own nicer (no offense Doug) copy of it, but this is still incredible. Featuring a band of “Hairies” ready to head out to the front, there’s a sort of tangible camaraderie here. There’s also an obvious notion of doomed defiance. We’ll never know what happened to these men after heading out to the front, but they look like they’ve seen hell, and are ready to face it once again, fate be damned. My wife and I love The Grizzled: Armistice Edition. It’s a relatively simple Great War-based game for 2-4 players, and I swear that Tignous (requiescat in pace) probably saw this stereoview before he did the wonderful artwork for the game. These men are the eponymous Grizzled to a T.
8. Hitler basking in admiration at the 1937 Parteitag, from my 100th Post
Yeah, I know there’s no Raumbild Warning on this, but it’s my birthday, and it’s one image, so cut me some slack. It’s far less horrendous than many of the views in the WW2 anniversary post on the German invasion of Poland. And that just so happens to already be the most-read post of 2019, just over a week after posting. Anyhow, this makes the list because it brings up so many important things – firstly, the notion of appreciating great stereography such as that of Heinrich Hoffman, while despising the content and the artist. Secondly, the timeliness. The 1937 Nuremberg Rally – the “Reich’s Party Day of Labor” – is eerily similar to far-right movements of today. A charismatic leader. Unnecessary military displays. The uniformity that surrounded all of it. Hatred directed at outsiders. Nationalism. And a theme of “it must be great because unemployment is low”. Been reading the news?
7. One of four views of card players from Manille in the Dugout
Ever since the first time I saw a copy of this image years ago, I’ve loved it. There are tons of stereoviews out there which humanize the soldiers of the Great War, and show them at something other than soldiering, and I love these sorts of scenes. Some of them are staged, and some, like this one, probably aren’t. Scenes of soldiers writing letters, picking lice, or just resting with a smoke – they’re a wonderful counterpoint to the majority of Great War imagery, which tends towards depictions of war-torn cities, No Man’s Land, weapons of war, and so on. This is not to say that I don’t love these too. I was practically drooling when the A7V “Mephisto” slide arrived in my mailbox. But showing the human side of the war reminds us that these were men – often boys. And that they were normal, mortal, fragile things. Like us.
6. La Flégère summit 1929, from the second box in the Puthon Collection
This collection of amateur slides – which I really need to find the time to post the next box from soon (these take longer than almost any other post!) – was the inspiration for starting a blog. I wanted to figure out more about these slides – and boy have I! But this was one of the slides from the collection that really grabbed me – so much so that I used it as the header image on my first blog post. While still early in the photographer’s active period – I have slides dating from at least 1928-1935 – this is excellent. Yes, there are better uses of stereography to come. But everything about this is amazing, from the group’s dress and posing to the legible “Le Progres” title on the newspaper. Amateur stereography is common. Good amateur stereography is not.
5. Unknown battlefield cemetery, from the Armistice Centenary post
This is turning out to be a morbid birthday, isn’t it? But in all seriousness, of all my Great War stereoviews featuring battlefield cemeteries and monuments, this is my favorite. Interestingly, it was also among the first I ever obtained, and I’ve never seen it elsewhere. There are many things to love about this sombre image – the makeshift wooden crosses made permanent by the addition of wreaths and offerings. The permanent monument at the center. The overcast skies, subtly dark enough to indicate a gloomy day, but not dark enough for drama. It’s the perfect stereoview to represent the deaths of millions on the fields of despair that were 1914-1918.
4. Characters marching in the 1933 Carnaval de Nice
But not an entirely morbid birthday! Of all the amateur collections filling up boxes, displayed on shelves, and lying about the apartment, the 1933 Nice Carnival is the most joyous. And if you look at the browser tab for this window, you might notice that the near character in this slide is familiar! This procession, as part of the year’s theme of “King of Gender”, is a bit naughty. But I won’t explain it if you don’t see it. In any case, everybody in this 13-slide set is having great fun, and with good reason. I only wish that I had a corresponding set of the Flower Battle! Anyhow, this slide is an excellent view of the parade, and one which I cherish – I have an entire tray on my Métascope devoted to this set – because it’s just such a joy! I only wish I could share the experience of viewing the actual glass.
3. Jean and her Baby Elephants, VistaScreen’s “The Circus” (Day Version)
By now you know that I’m obsessed with VistaScreen, and this stereoview started it all. Part of an incomplete series that took years to complete, it got me looking into the weird British format. Then it got me collecting VistaScreen. And now I’m obsessed. This card started it all. And it was the perfect storm – I love circuses, and I love stereography, and I love weird formats. This is a truly great image from Stanley Long. And finding out that he shot so many weird subjects – model villages, Heathrow Airport, and so on – has just led me to what’s sure to be a lifelong obsession. This was the first VistaScreen I ever obtained – and I didn’t obtain the missing card from this set until earlier this year! And today, a birthday package arrived containing… two sets of VistaScreen.
2. A soldier walks alone, to or from somewhere, from my 100th Post
When I first posted this, I talked rather extensively about why I love it so much. It’s so great, in fact, that I had held off on posting it, because I wanted to find just the right moment to show it off to the world. But there’s never a perfect moment. There are only better and worse moments. And that sort of ambiguity pervades an area of study concerned with doing detective work on these sorts of amateur slides. Is the man coming towards us? Heading away from us? What is the city in the distance? Who was this soldier? Was he done with the war, and lost, with no discernible destination in sight? Was he on a journey? This view asks a lot of us – which is why I spent hours developing it, cleaning it up, and “remastering” it.
1. Soldier recuperating from a shrapnel wound, from my “Disabled” post
You may have noticed by now that I tend to favor amateur Great War stereography over the commercial stuff. (In point of fact, I’m working on a huge post on the topic that just gets larger in scope every time I add to it – I’m considering just breaking it up into individual topics at this point.) So I was honored when Doug Jordan, of the Boyd/Jordan Collection, agreed to let me scan the Fasser Collection. Doctor Fasser didn’t start out as a skilled stereo photographer; many of his images are blurry, minimally stereo, poorly composed, terribly exposed, etc.
But he took some damn impressive stereoviews – and the humanity he showed his subjects is just overwhelming. One might be surprised by this – surgeons, as a rule, have to distance themselves from people when on the job. The job involves cutting people open, and many of them die. Distance is necessary. One would assume a degree of remove from his subjects, but this is not the case.
This stereoview is almost perfect. The composition is slightly askew – as if to say that the times are slightly askew. And this was during the early years of the Great War – the times were definitely askew! The visibly wounded man is not wincing in pain, but nor is he posed. He’s not addressing the camera, leading the viewer to wonder whether he’s looking at somewhere else, or lost in his own head. And then there’s the lighting. The lighting here is sublime. Really, everything about this image is sublime, excepting for one thing. I’ll be done creating archival-quality scans of the Fasser collection in another couple of months, and this slide (and its comrades) will be headed back from the front to their rightful home.
And that’s about it…
My wife’s probably about six blocks away at this point, so it’s time to start celebrating my birthday. I’m very much looking forward to dinner and an as-of-yet unseen Jan Troell film! And a day off from all responsibilities was nice – got some cataloguing done, rearranged some of my potted plants (I cultivate rare aroids), caught up on the latest stupidity surrounding Brexit. And now, it’s time to get ready for the lady of the house, whose very presence will remind me that on this birthday (and on its dreaded sequel), I might technically be getting older – but I’m nothing if not still a jubilant lad at heart.