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Curious Frame - Issue #39 - Nostalgia & Photography

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #39 - Nostalgia & Photography
By Leanne Staples • Issue #39 • View online
I was born curious. All the questions searching for answers. While I read a variety of both fiction and nonfiction books and I’m always researching something, most of the questions that I am preoccupied with don’t have simple answers.
If simple answers were available I would likely lose my curiosity. But fortunately they don’t and photography always keeps me amused and exploring new questions.
What kind of feelings does photography stir in you? For street photographers there is often the desire to be able to take those photos that the early ‘street’ photographers took.
Oh, the men were wearing hats and everyone was dressed so smartly. Cars were classic and all the hand painted business signs and even the old cool logos. Nostalgia can be about many things. At times it can be a form of escape from the harsh realities of the world. Or even just a brief distraction.
At any rate, nostalgia has been on my mind recently. What does it mean and how photography plays a big role in it. Thanks for following me on this journey and remaining curious about the world of photography!
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Reader's Comments:
Curious Frame exists for you the readers. It is fabulous how so many people are involved in the dialogue and with so many different opinions about what photography means to us. Let the dialogue continue!
All you need to do to join the dialogue is hit reply. You can even reply about earlier issues as well. The comment below is in response to the previous issue on The Snapshot Aesthetic It is a lengthy response but I think that there’s something poetic and appropriate to it. I hope that you enjoy it as I do.
One reader commented:
Currently I haven’t done that much, because I haven’t almost left the house and I have dedicated a lot of pictures from my window. The other day, they asked me which world is mine? I’ve also been asked if I had a motor disability and was living in a wheelchair! It turns out that I discovered that there is a real world and that passes every day under my window, I just filter and try to poetize everyday situations in my photos that take place from my window!
They are snapshots, because sometimes I see the situation and even take the camera and shoot I don’t have much time to think, if it doesn’t disappear from my vision, then yes, I think about another framing or improvement of the specifications in the camera’s adjustment. 
I’ve taken a lot of pictures like whatever God wants, I raise the camera and don’t even look at the viewfinder and shoot, sometimes even so I don’t lose the spontaneity of the person I’m photographing and not give him a chance to notice that he’s being portrayed or in others that I realize I don’t even have time to look at the viewfinder that I’m going to lose at the moment! Anyway, I’ve lost a lot of pictures like this, because nothing comes out, not even a blurry image! 
But on the other hand I have some very good ones! 
Photography for me in its essence is instantaneous, after all it freezes that moment in an instant, even if you’ve thought a lot before doing it, but that moment you pressed the button was instantaneous forever, for posterity! 
Kodak, Fuji, Polaroids, Ilford, Agfa, and many other films that came and made possible after Niépce and Daguerre introduced us to this magic that is called photography! 
Of course, Kodak plays an important role in its popularization and perhaps its Brownie is the first major tool for this, with the saying “you press the button, we do the rest!” 
Now with the camera on the phone then, Wow! God save the snapshot forever! 
Thank you Leanne for the opportunity you give me to learn a little from you and your knowledge and to bring me a lot of information that I didn’t know, as well as to read my thoughts acquired in more than 50 years of photographic life. 
A big hug, greetings from Brazil!
Thank you so much for your response! It is very inspiring and I am so happy that you have shared with us your experience of photography!
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Nostalgia & Photography
Streets of Soho, New York City, circa 1980. Photography was very different back then and the only thing that I regret was not taking a lot more photos.
Streets of Soho, New York City, circa 1980. Photography was very different back then and the only thing that I regret was not taking a lot more photos.
Nostalgia is a funny concept. It is something that I don’t typically feel. Whether or not you are prone to slipping into periods of nostalgia or not, I imagine that most of us are at least nostalgic for life before Covid. The old normal as it is now called.
As is my style, we’ll start with the word itself. The word nostalgia originates from the Greek nostos or a return home and algos which is pain. Translations include; homesickness, melancholy, regret and unsatisfied desire.
Moyra Davey wrote, nostalgia “has always implied to me: unconsummated desire kept alive by private forays into the cultural spaces of memory.
Yes, memory is a large portion of the idea of nostalgia. Or at least that is true of things that took place in our lifetimes. I wrote about memory and photography in Issue 14.
“Sixth Avenue between 43rd-44th streets” 1948. Outtake from Sixth Avenue Panel, image #8. © Todd Webb Archive.
“Sixth Avenue between 43rd-44th streets” 1948. Outtake from Sixth Avenue Panel, image #8. © Todd Webb Archive.
Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. Marcel Proust
Todd Webb (1905-2000) is one of those photographers that can induce a kind of nostalgia for me in which I want to be in the photos. I want to experience that world that he has captured. His world of photos is before my years. A very different world than now.
I don’t want to take photos like Webb, I want to have lived during those eras and been a photog and a writer back then. I am nostalgic for a time before the globalization and homogenization of the world. If anything, that is what has changed life and photography in unfortunate ways. Individual characteristics gets lost now.
While I have lived most of my life before this homogenization, I guess that I took for granted that there would always be a sense of personality of people and places. A time before corporate logos and sameness everywhere. My picture of nostalgia isn’t really a homesickness but rather a fantasy. 
everything must go, New York City, 11 September 2010. Retro polaroid processing.
everything must go, New York City, 11 September 2010. Retro polaroid processing.
Technology and nostalgia have become co-dependent: new technology and advanced marketing stimulate ersatz nostalgia —- for the things you never thought you had lost —- and anticipatory nostalgia —- for the present that flees with the speed of a click. Svetlana Boym, 2007. 
Nathan Jurgenson wrote in his book The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media, that in 2010 there were a large number of photos about the snowstorms that blanketed the northeastern US and that social media sites were filled with photos of this “dramatic weather event” and that many of them were faded and grainy, appearing to have been taken on a cheap film camera decades earlier.” 
Remember the days of people using those vintage filters? Yes, like my photo above that I put through a few filters to give it that faux retro look. Back in the 2010s many phone cameras produced low quality images and the faux retro or nostalgic look was designed to cover up the lack of quality as well as to lend a kind of importance to otherwise poor images. As if we could be tricked.
The problem isn’t so much the apps themselves as they can still be rather fun to use. The problem is why people feel a need to add a faux look in the first place. But that is perhaps the topic of another Curious issue, the difference between photos and photos.
That is to say, photographers who post photos and others who post photos to be on social media. Sometimes the look of nostalgia is posted purely to gain our attention. Retro is big business.
Robert Doisneau, La Dame Indignée, 1948.
Robert Doisneau, La Dame Indignée, 1948.
My idea of nostalgia is to be transplanted to Paris in the 1940s. To imagine living in a place before my time. In this fantasy I still want to be me the photographer, artist and writer that I am. I don’t want to create photos like exact duplicates of other famous photographers of the past. 
Nostalgia is not about some kind of accurate description of the past. Rather it becomes more of a romanticized version of something no longer available to us. I want to live and breathe those times that inspired not only photographers, but also writers, artists and musicians even if it is merely a fantasy.
Saul Leiter, Five and Dime, 1950.
Saul Leiter, Five and Dime, 1950.
Photography is always a reflection of the world we live in. It’s always important to look closely at what is revealed and what is absent in a picture. That is of course especially true when the photo is from a previous time.
Nostalgia is for me like a daydream. Or perhaps one day the ability to travel back in time for a brief period will exist. I prefer living here and now and photography allows me the possibility of imagining what other times might have been like.
Does photography make you feel nostalgic? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Just hit reply and share it with us.
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Sharing is Cool! If you’ve been forwarded this email or are reading online, consider joining the dialogue by subscribing. If you are looking for past issues you can find them all in the archive at the link below.
BTW you can give this newsletter a thumbs up or down at the end and you can also share it on social media to Twitter or Facebook.
Curious Frame Newsletter | Exploring Photographic Possibilities
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Three Words
This is the beginning of the 3 words series. It is an experiment and I thank the people who have contributed to it so far. There’s still time to submit to it as this is an ongoing project. 
It isn’t scientific or objective. But we already know that photography is always subjective. So this is about what you think and feel about photography in 3 words. 
Obviously, 3 words isn’t even sufficient to fully explain what photography means to us. Nevertheless, here is the first submission in the series. 
Queen of Now, 26 July 2021. This is a recent collage that I made. It is here to add an image and a little color.
Queen of Now, 26 July 2021. This is a recent collage that I made. It is here to add an image and a little color.
Expression Stories Suspended
Photography is always a form of self expression. It expresses how you see the world and it is also specific to the environment in which you are shooting. 
Ideally, photography always provides stories for the viewer to read into. These stories can be very different than our own and we may in fact read those stories very differently than the person shooting them 
When we shoot we are not only expressing ourselves, but we may also be providing expression to people and places that are unfamiliar to the viewer. We can can experience their stories through photography. 
Suspended is the third word and one which is somewhat challenging for me in this context, but here it goes. 
Ideally, when we are shooting we suspend a certain part of ourselves to be involved in and attempt to understand the environment around us.
When I’m shooting street photography, I tend to find myself in a zone of suspending all the mundane things about my own personal life while becoming absorbed in the things that are going on around me. Perhaps it is a kind of Zen mind. 
Whether photography is about expressing yourself and/or providing expression of the environment, it is always about the stories that we can discover in the making or the viewing.
You can comment on the first in the 3 words series or you can also submit your own 3 words.
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Further Reading:
  • Davey, Moyra. Index Cards, New Directions, 2020.
  • Jurgenson, Nathan. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media, Verso, 2019.
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Further Viewing:
Sarah Meister | Seeing Through Photographs
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You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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