• Royalty, Espionage, and Erotica: Secrets of the World's Tiniest Photographs Mary finished her embroidery, tucking her needle away into its handsome ivory case. Before slipping the case into her sewing kit, Mary held it up to the light of a nearby window, and peered into a tiny glass lens embedded in the ivory. She smiled at the secret photograph of her favorite place—London's Crystal Palace. In the next room, her husband, John, checked the time on his pocket watch. Making…
  • The Struggle in Black and White: Activist Photographers Who Fought for Civil Rights July marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet after half a century of adjustment to a world where such discrimination is illegal, the United States still hasn’t overcome its legacy of racism. Photographs and videos taken in Ferguson, Missouri, during the past …
  • Black Glamour Power: The Stars Who Blazed a Trail for Beyoncé and Lupita Nyong'o Nichelle Gainer knows a thing or two about glamour: She spent most of her career working for magazines like “Woman’s Day,” “GQ,” “Us Weekly,” and “InStyle,” with a focus on celebrity, fashion, and grooming. But her true passion is fiction, so she decided to write a novel about black beauty pageants in the 1950s, partially inspired by one of her two glamorous aunts, who was a model in the 1950s—the…
  • In Living Color: The Forgotten 19th-Century Photo Technology that Romanticized America Every few centuries, someone rediscovers America. After the first humans arrived from Asia roughly 15,000 years ago, Vikings touched down in Newfoundland in the year 1000. Half a millennium later, Christopher Columbus spotted a small island in what is now the Bahamas, and in 1769, Gaspar de Portolà was the first European to gaze upon San Francisco Bay, whose indigenous people had remained hidden b…
  • Who Were the First Teenagers? Long before the cynical Millennials, the snarky Brat Pack, and bad-boy greasers of the 1950s, teenagers were finding their own voices—and using them to scream at their elders. Most historians pin the origins of teen culture to the 1950s, when adults first noticed that adolescents were dictating trends in fashion, music, film, and more. But director Matt Wolf's latest film, called simply "Teenage,"…
  • Take That, Instagram: The Enduring Allure of Vintage Snapshots In an essay for her 1977 series "On Photography," Susan Sontag wrote that "photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing, which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art." Yet today, found or "vernacular" photographs are increasingly presented as art objects, a reverence reinforced by the steady transition from …
  • Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you'd ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon…
  • Photos From the Front: Veterans You Love Today, America honors its military veterans, who have served our country in times of war and peace. If you want to delve in the human side of our U.S. military history, look no further than Show & Tell, where militaria collectors like scottvez and AR8Jason share their collections and knowledge about hats, medals, and badges, as well as photos, letters, and trench art they've stumbled across. …
  • Found Photos: When Rock Lost Its Innocence On February 26, 1955, a Cleveland deejay named Tommy Edwards became the first music promoter to book a Southern singing sensation named Elvis Presley north of the Mason-Dixon line. The event was the Hillbilly Jamboree at Cleveland's Circle Theater. That fall, Edwards brought Presley back to the Cleveland area for several more shows, including one on October 20, 1955, at Brooklyn High School. On th…
  • The Woman Behind Bettie Page From 1952 to 1957, a not-so-shy model and camera-club girl named Bettie Page worked for a New York City men’s magazine publisher named Irving Klaw. His younger sister Paula was the photographer and director of the black-haired beauty, who posed for the bondage and fetish photography market that Irving helped create. Though mostly tame by 21st century standards, many of the Page images would…
  • The Day Johnny Cash Flipped Off Jim Marshall Photographer Jim Marshall, who grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore district in the 1940s and '50s, and passed away in March of 2010, was one of the pre-eminent chroniclers of the rock, blues, and jazz musicians of 20th century America. Marshall had amazing access, capturing the Beatles during their last performance at Candlestick Park, as well as Janis Joplin backstage at Winterland, a bottle of S…
  • Total Immersion Collecting: Baptism Photos Collecting anything is fun—somehow any group of objects always equals more than the sum of its parts. Personally, I prefer groups of three. That’s enough to show differences and similarities at the same time. But there is another reason to collect, and to collect specifically in a narrow category: Your efforts could wind up in a museum. An exhibition called “Take Me to the Water: Photographs of…
  • 19th-Century Photographs, from Daguerreotypes to Cartes de Visites I’ve always been interested in antiques. As a kid, I collected a variety of stuff – fossils, rocks, minerals, natural history stuff, Indian artifacts and antiques. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and my mother had a lot of Victorian antiques. We lived in an old Victorian neighborhood, one of Louisville’s old traditional neighborhoods. In the 1910s and ’20s it had been very vibrant, but started …
  • Daile Kaplan of Swann Auction Galleries on Collecting 20th Century Photographs Swann, which is New York City’s oldest specialty auction house, was founded in the late 1940s as an antiquarian book house. In the mid-1970s, as popular interest in photography became more widespread, the specialist at that time realized that Swann should have sales that featured documentary and fine art photography as well as albums and photobooks. Until that time, auctions dedicated to photograp…
  • From Ambrotypes to Stereoviews, 150 Years of Photographs We both come from families that had collections and we both had collections as children. Jack lost his when his grandmother threw them out at one point. His grandmother collected china and glass. My parents had collections. When we married, we had both studied photography. In Chicago, we hardly ever saw any photographs. We went to antique shops and we prowled around in flea markets and the malls, …