I like the natural, simplicity of this beach sunbathing scene from the early 1960s. The beach looks wild, possibly on the Cape West Coast. The women (‘Me’ on the frame), is in a blue bikini and blue sunglasses to match. With just a towel and blow-up pillow, she looks super relaxed – just as it should be at the beach. Is that a radio?
Author Archives: elaine
I’ve previously written about the collection of abandoned Argentinean snapshots I received from a friend. They belonged to a guy who left them in South Africa many years ago. His snaps show good times for a group of guys in Argentina, their home country. So it was interesting to find some shots included in the box of their travels in Europe. Interesting because of the way they remade themselves for their travels, wearing dapper clothing in a style they may have felt was appropriate for Europe. We’re talking brogues for London, boots for Venice, and a well-groomed style not seen in their home pics. I love this transformation and the soft, self-conscious style of the photos. They do look the part of the debonair tourist, don’t they?
In London …
… and in Venice.
Given how popular fancy dress parties were in the 1970s, you’d think they would turn up more often. Perhaps people are wisely getting rid of those pics before disposing of their snapshots! The awful, tacky get-ups, the stereotypes, the smeared make-up on men, the giddy, gaudy, god-awfulness of it all is so endearing. In the late-hour, full-swing drunkenness of these pics we see true humanity poking through, and it is beautiful.
My guess this is a Cape Town beach on the Atlantic seaboard, 1960s. It’s a wonderful example of vernacular photography that weirdly works. Despite being hastily snapped and, as a result, being skew and blurred, there are enough details from the era to make it interesting. I love the relaxed indifference of the women as they stride by, smoking and chatting. It’s almost contemporary.
Usually vernacular slide photography is all birthday parties, travel and glamour so a collection of pics taken locally in SA by a fishing family is something different. This group of snapshots were dirty and blurry but the grit seemed to go with the subject and I like how they look with an added dry texture. The snapshot quality and rough composition of the originals (which I have kept) are wonderful as little paintings.
The Table Mountain cable car pictured in the early 1960s with a lone man inside. These cars could transport about 12 people comfortably. I can just remember them, the open air and greasy smell of the cables. Nowadays the cable car company transports about 800 people per day up and down our famous and wonderful mountain.
People love finding rock formations that, from a particular angle, look like something else, especially an animal or human. The Internet has many examples of rock formations that look like a fox, rabbit, elephant, dog, penguin, bear, porcupine, fish, horse, camel, dinosaur, rhino, or human face. There are of course many examples of human breasts and buttocks as well as human genitals in rocks. Here is a rock formation that looks somewhat like a frog located in the Western Cape alongside the road between Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els.
The last time someone updated the paint job on this rock was in the early 1990s I’m told. It used to be cool to paint on rock formations if they were small enough, however these days one doesn’t see it often. It’s not cool anymore to paint on a natural feature. Instead people do it virtually in Photoshop; some of the examples I’ve seen in Google look like they might just start walking!
Here is another pic of iconic Spotty Dog the roadhouse on the Main Road of Retreat, taken in the mid or early 1960s. I’ve previously written about Spotty Dog in another post so go here to read about the history. The building is so iconic and so often photographed without context that it was nice to find a second drive-by photo in the same collection of the nearby Retreat Shopping Centre. Grandly named but actually a small, traditional Cape grocery store situated right on the Main Road and displaying a large array of fresh produce. Together the images give one the flavor (if you’ll excuse the pun) of the area.
Long forgotten by some is the fact that Retreat was once one of the largest ‘locations’ in Cape Town – an area where black South Africans lived. It saw forced removals under Apartheid throughout the 1950s with many people being moved to the new township of Nyanga. In 1961 the area was declared a ‘colored’ group area. Spotty dog witnessed all this South African history (maybe that’s why he’s showing a few cracks). The building is fondly remembered by people all over the world.
Where does the name Retreat come from? “The suburb of Retreat in Cape Town was so named because the Dutch retreated to that area when they were losing the Battle of Muizenberg (1795). The Dutch landed there after the Retreat and declared the area to be ‘Terugtrekking van de nederlandse 1795′ or in English, Retreat of the Netherlands 1795.The signage with Terugtrekking van de nederlandse 1795’ written on it can be found at a Museum in Cape Town, South Africa.” (Wikipedia)
Two moms enjoying a chat at a toddlers birthday late 1950s. A classic snapshot that perfectly captures the tête-à-têtes between the mothers with an offbeat composition. Tempting to crop it but I liked the deep well of the veranda space and the way the balloons poke in at the top.
The square format slide had degenerated to a murky magenta. I considered converting it to black and white but in the end liked this soft pink shade, with desaturated color.
Who has not stopped on a dirt road to climb a fence and pet the horses? Such a lovely found snapshot with two teenage girls gently connecting with a horse and foal in the mid 1960s.
This was a genuine moment on a family holiday, but surely the photographer had seen images of beautiful young women and girls with horses, its a genre in popular art and has been for more than a century. This reminds me how, consciously or unconsciously, we mimic images in popular media, art and advertising when we pick up a camera. This is a well documented phenomenon in vernacular photography. I don’t mean to destroy the charm of the image with this comment, it is a wonderful photograph in every way!
Four young girls playing at camping, mid 1960s. The wooden fruit boxes have Graymead Farm printed on the side, and Google tells me that this is probably the present-day one in the Villiersdorp area, Western Cape. It was probably a fruit farm. Love how this shows us a contrasting childhood for girls to the norms today. Nothing here is pretty or pink. These girls are down and dusty, barefoot campers, having fun with the simplest of props. It even looks like they’ve been making fire. Its rough and earthy and I love it. Respect to the parents who allowed their girls to create this experience and lovingly photographed it.
This image – of a man posing with a Welwitschia plant – is one I’ve had for a long time. It is no doubt taken in Namibia, an extremely arid place, to which the plant is native. The man has always intrigued me with his triumphant pose and his vaguely unsavory looks. I’d wanted to write about the image, to restore it, but I seemed to be in a creative desert. Then I thought of the iPad game Plants vs. Zombies and it struck me that the man has an uncanny likeness to the zombies, with his open mouth, broken tooth, greasy wisps of hair and dull clothing. With a bit of a stretch, the Welwitschia plant is like one of the plants the zombies try to eat in the game. I put this little (un-restored) scene together just for fun.
In Afrikaans, the common name for the Welwitschia plant is tweeblaarkanniedood (translates awkwardly as ‘two leaves cannot die’). The game needs one of those! That’s Plants=1, Zombies=0.
The term ‘instant relative’ has emerged in popular culture. It refers to those photos of people found at flea markets. You can purchase them, take them home and presto! you have instant ancestors on your wall. I’ve seen them in holiday houses and restaurants, cloak rooms and hallways. In one holiday house I stayed in they hung above the bath. On the one hand it’s a shallow decor trend but on the other hand people really do start feeling a connection with the people in found photos. There’s definitely something deeper going on.
These instant relatives – photographed in the UK in about 1965 – all come from a single collection. One inherits the loving, friendly or intimate gaze without any effort, and perhaps that is their attraction.
Snapshots such as these had great significance for their owners in colonial South Africa, depicting as they do one’s connection to a tribe in a country of origin, far away.
With the remove of time and no real familial connection, the anthropologist’s eye comes in. I love the details of domesticity, the houses and clothing tell a thousand stories about middle class English society.
Here’s Bob Richter explaining what instant ancestors are and how you can welcome them into your home.