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Old Fields

Old Fields: Photography, Glamour, and Fantasy Landscape

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 536
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  • Book Info
    Old Fields
    Book Description:

    Glamour subverts convention. Models, images, and even landscapes can skew ordinary ways of seeing when viewed through the lens of photography, suggesting new worlds imbued with fantasy, mystery, sexuality, and tension.

    InOld Fields, John Stilgoe-one of the most original observers of his time-offers a poetic and controversial exploration of the generations-long effort to portray glamour. Fusing three forces in contemporary American culture-amateur photography after 1880; the rise of glamour and fantasy; and the often-mysterious quality of landscape photographs-Stilgoe provides a wide-ranging yet concentrated take on the cultural legacy of our photographic history.

    Through the medium of "shop theory"-the techniques, tools, and purpose-made equipment a maker uses to realize intent-Stilgoe looks at the role of Eastman Kodak in shaping the ways photographers purchased cameras and films, while also mapping the divisions that were created by European-made cameras. He then goes on to argue that with the proliferation of digital cameras, smart phones, and Instagram, young people's lack of knowledge about photographic technique is in direct correlation to their lack of knowledge of the history of glamour photography.

    In his exploration of the rise of glamour and fantasy in contemporary American culture, Stilgoe offers a provocative and very personal look into his enduring fascination with, and the possibilities inherent in, creating one's own images.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3516-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XVIII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Glamour governs everything that follows here. Descrying anything in haze or twilight, especially the shadows and shimmering of long-marginalized subjects, demands sustained scrutiny of what is there, might be there, and seems not to be there but nonetheless casts shadows. Scrutiny o “en begins in glimpse. Viewing itself changes in the glimmer, and always involves lenses that reflect and refract observer bias. Three topics shape this inquiry: old-road abandoned landscapes fraught with imaginative potential, genii loci powerful in ways most intellectuals dismiss or ignore, and traditional glamour photography, particularly the square-image, medium-format photography designated 2¼ and still known by the...

  5. 1 Fantasy
    (pp. 13-30)

    Fantasy opens on faerie. Britons long imagined faerie as the place of enchantment, sorcery, and illusion, the ground itself of visual magic, of glamour. Well into the eighteenth century, rural britons knew it sometimes as a place and sometimes as pure illusion itself.¹ Early nineteenth-century novelists reshaped rural tradition into the foundation of contemporary fantasy fiction; always they emphasized the visual portal between the mundane world and faerie.

    In Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novelJane Eyre, her protagonist tells Rochester that the men in green forsook England a hundred years before she encountered him in Hay Lane one moonlit night, and...

  6. 2 Media
    (pp. 31-54)

    Belly buttons attracted my attention in 1966.I Dream of Jeanniedebuted as a prime-time television situation comedy the previous year. I dismissed it: the syrupy actress in harem pants and the improbable plots seemed beyond stupidity. In the early winter of 1966 I heard on overseas radio that “the American film production code” governing television content drew United States culture downward. The commentator explained that the code reflected the biases of Catholics, poor southerners, and second-generation urban immigrants. He argued that middle- and upper-middle-class people watched little television in part because they understood the origins and skewing power of...

  7. 3 Shop Theory
    (pp. 55-82)

    In the town where i grew up, most local women and girls refused point-blank to be photographed in homemade bikinis briefer than those they wore on the beach and aboard boats. The quasi-public gaze of far-off photo processing plant employees and the possibility that clerks at the one local drugstore might open envelopes inhibited image making.¹ At-home processing freed photographer and subject: the tentative use of new Polaroid instant cameras accelerated easiness in front of cameras. Images of private behavior—mother or sister sunbathing or playing badminton in wisps so brief they scarcely stayed in place; mom and dad sharing...

  8. 4 Brownies
    (pp. 83-106)

    Excited but determined to stay calm, the boy Scouts hurry to develop the film just removed from one of their cameras. Huddled in a tent atop a West Virginia mountain, they unpack their small developing tank, decide to speed the processing of the film, and mix in double the amount of developer. A few minutes later they shift the large negatives to the printing frame, and begin contact printing, placing each negative atop a piece of sensitized paper. “The developer had worked perfectly, notwithstanding the haste, and the printing was well advanced in the soft light of the tent,” writes...

  9. 5 Od
    (pp. 107-128)

    She stands facing the observer in a robe, not diaphanous but not opaque, and in a headdress glorifying the tree of life. Hair up, hands down, she holds a No. 3A Autographic Kodak Special, offering what the Eastman Kodak Company called “the highest type of hand-camera efficiency.” The No. 3A could boast not only the novel autographic feature, in which the photographer might write with a stylus directly on one edge of every negative before development, but also a German-made Zeiss lens. “With this equipment it is possible to get well-timed pictures under light conditions that would be fatal to...

  10. 6 Ways
    (pp. 129-154)

    In 1910 hilaire belloc remarked “an isolation which our forefathers never knew” in regions of Great Britain distant from railroads and laced by the overgrown roads and footpaths from which stagecoaches, long-distance wagons, and even oxcarts had long disappeared. Belloc found the great high road along the Pennines and its connectors “utterly deserted” and warned potential hikers that “you will be as completely cut off from men the whole day long as you could be in the West of Canada.” Often the desuetude began a mile or so at right angles from a tertiary road: bits of macadamized pavement lay...

  11. 7 Light
    (pp. 155-186)

    In 1911 alfred watkins reminisced about his early photographic efforts along the old ways of Great Britain. Thirty- five years earlier, when he was twenty-one and employed as a brewery salesman, he carried his camera, wet plates, and developing outfit with him in his buggy as he traveled from one rural pub to another. Especially in winter, making photographs proved awkward, particularly in remote, wild areas, but developing the wet plates on the spot taxed his patience and endurance and made him choose subjects thoughtfully. “I remember turning out one cold winter’s morning and taking scenes on the little frozen...

  12. 8 Voodoo
    (pp. 187-220)

    Belle grove burned on march 15, 1952. the great plantation house blazed into the following morning. “This is the first picture I made on that Sunday, when the bricks were still hot,” wrote Clarence John Laughlin of one image. “Great cavities had opened in the walls, and against them moss can be seen dripping against the distant sky—like a suppuration of doom—the whole scene having much of the emotional quality of Piranesi’s engravings of Roman ruins—and indeed this house was very much like a palace of antiquity—completely lost in time and space.”¹ For decades Laughlin had...

  13. 9 Old Fields
    (pp. 221-250)

    As laughlin photographed the most disquieting scenes deep in the Louisiana back country, what he called the power of the unknown stressed the brittle intellectual system of rural New England. Traditional understanding of local history clashed with novel ecological awareness: from the Depression onward, abandoned landscape became fantasy theater. Early in boyhood I learned firsthand about fragments of this.

    “Going cross-lots” meant penetrating decrepitude. The overgrown cart paths, fields springing up in sweet fern as the white pine woodlots invaded their perimeters, tottering wharves and other estuary marsh wreckage, crumbling dams and spillways, and cellar holes guarded by lilacs composed...

  14. 10 Imagers
    (pp. 251-278)

    Quietude encourages photographic experimentation, especially among skilled enthusiasts free of the time constraints professionals loathe. Beginning in the Depression, photographers working in abandoned landscape with equipment they had modified themselves valued uninterrupted time, and their models enjoyed the lack of any observers, especially censorious ones. Clarence John Laughlin spoke for many photographers when he explained that the figures in his images served not as actors on stage but as manifestations of fears, dreams, and other emotions evoked by forces suffusing specific abandoned places.¹ His images and those made by many other old-fields photographers originated in extreme sensitivity to place-evoked intellectual...

  15. 11 Rolleiflex
    (pp. 279-306)

    Only accident linked my boyhood old-fields landscape and my early interest in Depression-era photographic technique. Medium-format photography, what I unhesitatingly and thoughtlessly considered “photography,” began to fascinate me around the age of eight, and within three years I had begun dismantling and altering hand-me-down medium-format cameras, then taking them into the old fields and the marshes, and into rowboats. I never worried about damaging any of them, or even losing them overboard, and by my early teens I had learned enough of the Depression-era and older shop theory of image making to connect medium-format photography with a particular response to...

  16. 12 Tutorial
    (pp. 307-328)

    In 1955 albert jourdan discovered his wife framed in a doorway, eating a cluster of grapes she had just picked. “I sneaked up and took five minishots of her just like firing with a six-shooter,” he reported inAmerican Photography. “While aiming the sixth to-be-mortal shot she saw me and dared me to shoot again, and I took the dare and bagged a grin.” Jourdan concluded that the 35 mm camera resembled a tiny pistol, “because like any other concealed weapon a minicam can be used surreptitiously and nefariously and so provide a lot of fun, very cheaply too, in...

  17. 13 Chrome
    (pp. 329-360)

    In the late spring of 1972, in the early after noon when the moist air caused the slanting sunlight to turn golden, I found the near-perfect nereid wading a few yards ahead of my boat. Relaxed among chartreuse marsh grass and wearing a chartreuse bikini, she smiled at me and suggested the time had come for me to point the Rolleiflex toward her. At age twenty-three I recognized the opportunity: a woman my age, confident and happy in the marshes we both loved, drenched in yellow light and wearing a bikini matching the color of the grass. She made the...

  18. 14 Spirit
    (pp. 361-392)

    Suzy parker brought bikinis into mainstream American media in the early 1960s. The premiere American model championed the suits as heralding a new era of female freedom. No longer risqué Riviera beachwear, the suits emblemized a new, confident physicality fused with natural surroundings,¹ twenty-five years after some American women began wearing bikinis in boats and elsewhere in private, and in photography magazines. Parker demonstrated that well-to-do adult women had embraced the navel-revealing suits working- and lower-middle-class women feared and Hollywood shunned.² Parker’s adoption of the bikini convinced most American women that bikinis, first advertised to models and glamour photographers, heralded...

  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 393-402)

    In the old days, long before anyone thought of speaking ‘candid’ and “photography’ in the same breath, amateur photographers concerned themselves almost exclusively with ‘views,’” mused Thomas H. Miller and Wyatt Brummitt, two Eastman Kodak Company employees who producedThis Is Photography: Its Means and Endsin 1945. Writing at the end of the war, the writers understood that “the mood of the world in general and of photography in particular has changed,” and that “the tempo is swift, our emotions are brittle, and we lean naturally toward irony and satire.” In a chapter entitled “Land, Sea, and Sky” they...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 403-448)
    (pp. 449-510)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 511-518)