In Europe “old” is everywhere so that people don’t really care about it. Actually they do but under the very condition that it gives a clue to a past grandeur, one that in fact is long time gone. People take photographs of cathedrals but rarely of old barns, except if they find some peculiar aesthetic interest in it – as opposed to shooting it for its sheer oldness.
In the US the “old” is not very old to the European standard (or Asian, or African) but is compelling even in its most mundane form. The simple fact that something is “old” means something special, it is a glorious quality on its own right and I believe that every city and town in the US has its own “oldest house” or whatever. But it has to be clearly and genuinely labelled as “old” or “the oldest” to capture the interest because every so often you are not able to distinguish the Old from the not-so-old that is around (and that is a reason that makes the American cityscape fascinating, at least to me). An explanation for that could be that for American folks the Old (in fact “their” old) is singular and takes them back to a very specific moment in time (a moment of pride, that of Thanksgiving, the Independence and emancipation) whereas in most other parts of the world there are so many layers of oldness that it is diluted in History – hence does not refer to a specific point of departure like in the US.
Therefore the photograph below that I did of the oldest house in Nantucket is very American in the sense that it captures the glorious old for its own sake.
Another thing that looks old (but not so gloriously old) is the hat. Actually the hat used to be “identified with documentary photography of the 1930’s” because back then wearing a hat “had been almost obligatory” as Geoff Dyers put it in his book The Ongoing Moment. Yet soon after “the hat became just a hat”.
I did the photograph above at a restaurant in Boston when having lunch with my family. I guess you can’t figure out when looking at this one that there were three young and noisy kids messing around just outside the frame. Instead what is captured looks peaceful, almost bucolic. But also it looks outdated and retro. More specifically since there is no other person than this man in the frame, and because he is wearing a hat one can extrapolate that every other people would similarly wear a hat at the time when this photograph was made. Actually in this photograph the hat is not just a hat but instead is somewhat restored to its old usage and therefore is given back its condition as a symbol of the photography style of that era.
A picture that could have looked old is the one below. It is an alternate take to a shoot I did in Allston (the color version here ). This one I like it monochrome and with no people in it. It makes more obvious the car-related writings and power lines. These thematic would be very used in the 30’s documentary-style photography. Unlike the hat which was wore by almost everyone – and thus unavoidable – many American photographers were interested in that specific subject matter, often as a hint at the industrialization and the economic boom of the 20’s – but also as symbols of the Depression (wrecked cars). Walker Evans for example did many pictures featuring power lines and cars.
Whereas cars themselves are obvious time-markers it is not necessary the case with writings about cars so that a photograph can evoke the “car” subject matter whilst avoiding to be instantly situated in time. I believe it is the case with the photograph above. Except that there is a visually obvious time-marker here, which funnily is remotely related to cars as well and makes the image contemporary (at least post 60’s or so). Can you figure out what it is ?