The rescued photos of Allen and Sachtleben

Join us in the Central Library Microsoft Auditorium on July 11th at 7 p.m. as we welcome bicycle historian, David V. Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of An American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance and Bicycle: The History. Herlihy will present a selection of historical photographs of early bicycle tourists, Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben, from UCLA’s special collections.  

In addition, the author will provide a glimpse into the life and times of adventurous 19th century “wheelmen,” young men who could withstand bone-jarring discomfort in exchange for the excitement of cycling. Herlihy’s recent book tells the story of one of those young men, handsome bookkeeper Frank Lenz, who decided to set out on his own to circle the globe. His method of travel was a new “safety,” the straightforward term for bicycles as we know them now, with wheels of the same size. Continue reading “The rescued photos of Allen and Sachtleben”

Judging a book by its author photo

This photo of Raymond Carver was taken in 1984 by Marion Ettlinger.

I was on a tight budget in 1989 when a book cover totally seduced me and weakened my fiscally conservative resolve. I’d already read most of the stories in Raymond Carver’s collection Where I’m Calling From when I saw the Vintage paperback at Elliott Bay Book Company. But that photo. I couldn’t walk away.

That day was the first time I paid attention to a photographer credit:  © Marion Ettlinger. This, I thought, is a photographer I want to remember.

Turns out it was easy to remember Ettlinger’s name. Each time an author photo seemed particularly arresting, I’d look and — sure enough — it would be by Ettlinger. Soon I didn’t even need to look for the “photograph by” line. I could tell. It got to the point that before I’d read the inside front flap, I’d flip to the back to check out the author photograph. In fact, I still do this.

One of Ettlinger's photos of Truman Capote gets front cover treatment.

In 2003, a compilation of Marion Ettlinger’s author photographs was published in Author Photo. You’ll find a lot of big names – Truman Capote, Russell Banks, Ann Patchett, Joyce Carol Oates, Sherman Alexie, and maybe some names you don’t recognize (but if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself looking up their books). Ettlinger photographed Stewart O’Nan in a diner and Jeffrey Eugenides in a New York subway, but most of her portraits are tighter on the author’s face; all are shot in natural light; and all have a realness that seems even more evident if you know the author’s work.   I come to a photo of Lucy Grealy and my heart aches for the loss of her voice; I feel the same way when I get to David Foster Wallace and I look to see if there’s any hint in Ettlinger’s photo of the sadness of DFW. Then I recall a photo of Wallace I like even better (below)  than the one in Author Photo. I look for it online, and am not at all surprised to see that it, too, is by Ettlinger.

David Foster Wallace, photographed by Marion Ettlinger.

My challenge to you: Next time you see an author photo that seems particularly compelling, check to see the photographer credit. The ones you like may or may not be by Ettlinger, but now at least there’s a chance you’re flipping to the back flap and noticing, too.

See also: Marion Ettlinger’s gallery at her website.

Seattle Camera Club’s Vision of Beauty

The beauty of our city, and its surroundings — how often have these been noted and commented on? Every fine day we get another opportunity to be grateful for Seattle’s location, and every rainy or cloudy day, the beauty is still present but cloaked in different covering. We’re lucky to be reminded of this simple wonder on occasion, and no better reminder than the recent book, Shadows of a Fleeting World: Pictorial Photography and the Seattle Camera Club, by David Martin and Nicolette Bromberg. Shadows Fleeting World Seattle Camera ClubWritten to accompany a recent exhibit at the Henry Gallery, the book and its authors will be honored in a program on Thursday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m., in the Central Library Microsoft Auditorium. They will present information about the Seattle Camera Club and its coterie of Japanese-American and Caucasian photographers of the 1920s.  This short-lived club specialized in images of Seattle, of nearby waters, of Mount Rainier, all in the impressionist style of photo pictorialism. The club, a casualty of the depression, lasted only a few years, and most of the photographers were swept up in the internment of Japanese, having to surrender their cameras and equipment. That we can enjoy some of their work today is a fluke of history; many of these photographs were lost or discarded. Caucasian photographers were friends and associates of these photographers — a notable one being Virna Haffer, of Tacoma, whose work is now being displayed at the Tacoma Art Museum. After the “Shadows of a Fleeting World” program at the Central Library, a selection of the club’s photographs will be on display at Douglass-Truth Branch, 2300 E. Yesler Way, where visitors can recover that delight in the beauty of our environment that so marks the work of these photographers.

Sotero Photograph Collection

The Seattle Public Library has a number of interesting visual collections. One example is the Sotero photograph collection, which offers a window into the world of African Americans in uniform during the World War II era. Marjorie Sotero collected these photographs during her time as a director of the African American Servicemen’s Clubs at Seattle’s Fort Lawton and Camp George Jordan.

Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 80-G-23326
"Pin-up girls at NAS Seattle, Spring Formal Dance" Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 80-G-23326. African Americans During World War II # 247

Marjorie described how these local service clubs were used in a 1985 interview: “this was their home away from home, and this was like their living room where they could come after their day’s work was done and sit down and do the things a man liked to do, sit and smoke, and write [a] letter, and listen to music. And maybe in the evening there would be some kind of entertainment that the directors of the club would plan.”

Many of the images in the collection capture military personnel busy enjoying their time off: a group takes a break from bobbing for apples to smile for the camera, fishermen in uniform line up to display their catch of the day, a bride descends a staircase and a group of pie eating contestants smile through whipping cream beards. One intriguing image Continue reading “Sotero Photograph Collection”

Discovering Oxford: Then and Now

oxford-project-book-coverMy small town roots drew me to a hefty arty book about the people in Oxford, Iowa, population 705.  But it was my love of a good story that kept me glued to The Oxford Project.

In 1984, Peter Feldstein photographed 670 Oxford residents (the population then was 676) and displayed the 4×5 black and white prints around town. Funding from the Iowa Arts Council and the trusting nature of the townspeople—who responded to a simple letter from Feldstein—made the project possible. Two decades later, Feldstein returned to Oxford and asked to photograph residents again. Some had moved, a few had died, but most had stayed and were willing to be photographed. The  result is a fascinating look at people in a then-and-now style, with their 1984 and circa 2006-2007 portraits side by side, accompanied by short personal narratives.  Mary Somerville writes about politics and her commitment to the Iowa caucuses; her daughter Kristi, a toddler in 1984, now a college graduate, also talks about politics (and Obama), along with getting her PhD. and traveling. A man posing with his four children talks about how he thought his parents were crazy to have four kids; he tries, unsuccessfully, to avoid talking about his part-time job picking up dead deer on the side of the road.

Stephen G. Bloom, the writer on The Oxford Project, artfully shapes and edits each story to its essence. The photographs and text together create a still-life documentary as fascinating to me as Michael Apted’s Up Series . (I remember when it was 21-Up, and now we’re at 49-Up. Yikes!.)oxford-project-portraits-of-man

I can’t stop looking into these faces and reading their stories. I look for clues as to what has changed—and what has stayed the same—in these last two decades.  I love the quiet dignity in each of the portraits and how the book design reinforces that every single person in Oxford, Iowa, has a story.  Of course you can say the same thing about people living in any situation. I just like to point it out to those who may not have had the opportunity to live in a small town.