Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

I’ve got a big scanning job this week, so I’ll keep it short, but I just wanted to pass on the 3 images you find in this post.  They’re part of a larger archive of found photographs, collected here in Paris that are actually what I’m in the process of digitizing.  And I probably shouldn’t pass this on, but they’re just so cool.

I’m sure you all have seen plenty of mugshots, so this won’t be too revealing…  But check out the text on the back of the images (reproduced below each photograph – click for full size images).  It’s really fascinating.  I especially like the descriptions of tattoos, none of which are visible in the actual photographs, but reveal a world apart from that reproduced by photography.  My mind is going wild imagining into being what these tattoos could look like beneath the dark jackets and pin striped suits.


Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

‘4 x 2 + 4,’ from

I recently came across the blog AAnonymes – it’s all found photographs with a focus on the odd, accompanied by sometimes witty, sometimes mysterious titles.

Strictly speaking, it’s not actually a blog, but rather an ‘online exhibition’ by curator Romaric Tisserand. He’s showing 365 found photographs in 365 days, proposing a type of alternate reality in photographs. From his statement in English (available in the sidebar): shows “abandoned” photographs, antiquities of a reality that has ceased to exist in its original state, images which, like every other photograph ever taken, have contributed to the creation of a photographically modified reality. The very images which Jean Baudrillard regarded as the prime instrument of the lack of reality, pictures of a contemporary world in which images are already pictures, in which everything has been fiction since Nicéphore Nièpce’s first heliograph…

Take a look at

Totalitarian Kitsch

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott


The Wall Street Journal has a short piece on the recent photo (shown above) of Kim Jong Il and Bill Clinton which I find weirdly fascinating.

This week the world’s eyes were on the extraordinary photograph of former President Bill Clinton seated next to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il—an official picture taken at the end of talks that led to the freeing of two imprisoned American journalists. Mine, I confess, were elsewhere, continually diverted to the photo’s dramatic backdrop, an enormous mural of crashing seas and fluttering birds rendered in lurid greens and brilliant whites.

You can find a wider shot of this picture here and a bunch of other portraits taken here (at the bottom).

I wonder what kind of photo-education the state’s official photographers recieve:  Do you think they get photo history?  If you asked them, who do you think they would state their greatest influences are? Don’t forget, these photographs are produced for an international audience, not just a North Korean one so there must be some sort of styling – these aren’t purely utilitarian photographs, like a police lineup.  Someone chose the background and the arrangement, and someone makes visual decisions for all of the photos the Korean Central News Agency (more info here) releases…

Least Wanted

Friday, June 5th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

From Least Wanted‘s ‘Credentials‘ Flickr set.

A quick one today followed by a more extensive post Monday.  Sorry, but I just got back from North America and I’m hell of jetlagged.

Anyways, I stumbled across Least Wanted through the interestingly niche-y blog Prison Photography.  It’s a big collection of portraits in the form of ID photographs of various kinds, including, but not limited to, mugshots, hospital badges, FBI files of communists, medical files, and many others besides.  I won’t say too much about it, save that it’s well worth wading through the awkwardness that is an ID photograph in any context.


Friday, November 14th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott


Seriously, who doesn’t like vintage porn?

Anyways, I came across a pretty decent tumblr blog that posts vintage porn as well as other retro photographs that the author has found on the internet. Some of them are AMAZING. It’s called RETrOZONe.


Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

1920s mugshot

I have a ‘To Blog’ folder in my browser bookmarks that I periodically sift through and clean. Some of the stuff makes it into posts: The rest have their addresses deleted, never to be seen again. I have no compelling reason to post the above photo – it just seemed too nice to let slip away. [via Constant Siege]

The Aura Of Old Photographs

Friday, April 18th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

My own grandparents

Muse-ings is trying to come to terms with what he perceives as an absence of depth in contemporary work compared to historical images. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with him, but I feel it only right to play the Devil’s advocate on this one.

To start off, it’s worth arguing that part of the reason we tend to remember things done in the past in a better light is that we only remember the good things in the past. We remember the Friedlanders, the Franks, the Winogrands, the etcs and forget all the other crap that was being produced at the time. So, when we think back to the past, it inevitably emerges in a golden light. Of course contemporary work pales in comparison – when we think of contemporary, it includes all of the crap that history has yet to filter out. As they say, only time will tell.

That being said, though, muse-ing isn’t really comparing the greats of the past with now. Instead, he’s comparing the aura of found, historical photographs with contemporary practice, and finding contemporary lacking. But these found, historical photographs get a great part of their aura from there very anonymity. There is no question that these things wouldn’t have nearly the appeal if they were exactly the same, except that they were created today.

They emerge out of time with nary a clue about their making, save for what we can gather from the photograph and perhaps something scrawled across the back. They must have meant something to someone at some point, but they no longer have that specificity. I mean- photographs of my grandfather as a young man look nothing like him now. For all I know, any photograph that seems to have been taken in the 1940s could be him. In fact, it might as well be him. These pictures are generally specific. They are, by virtue of their age, ‘secrets about secrets‘ [a dictum that should have been preceded by ‘good photographs are…’ in its original utterance].

Muse-ings may or may not be able to find these same qualities in contemporary work – I don’t know, it depends on the skill of the photographer and so many subjective things – but I warrant in 50 years time, looking back on the work produced today, someone will find these qualities in contemporary work.

Found Photo <3 <3 <3

Friday, April 11th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

From the Library Of Congress’ Flickr stream

I think it’s pretty clear at this point, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, that I absolutely love found photos. Unfortunately, I never have the time to properly search for them, ruffling through flea market bins, attending estate auctions, digging through immense archives. Luckily, there’s a ton of people on the internet who can do this for us. Aside from the excellent Archive feature on i heart photograph (through which I have found some of the following) and the found tag on Flickr, one can find great found photos at the following locations:

Ad Access : Duke University’s online compendium of advertising images.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library : Yale University’s online bank of rare books.
Chilton Computing Photographs : Photographs of the history of computing, 1961-1989.
Earth Sciences & Map Library : Cal Berkeley’s library of images involving geography, cartography, etc.
Library Of Congress Flickr Photostream : They want some help tagging images.
Los Angeles In Photographs : UCLA has digitized the archives of the LA Times and LA Daily News. Images : All things Philly.
Shorpy : The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog
SI Vault : All of Sports Illustrated’s images. Ever.
Smithsonian Collection : Smithsonian Collection’s image search.
Vernacular Photography : An idiosyncratic site with vernacular photography.
Vintage Vanguard : Jazz LP art.
Wisconsin Historical Images : All things Wisconsin.
Women Working : Harvard has begun the process of digitizing many of its collections, including this one.
The World Of Light Classical Music Record Group : Classical musical LP art.

This is obviously a totally incomplete list of the vast offerings of the internet, but these are some of my favorites. Let me know some of yours in the comments below.

God Damn You Shorpy…

Monday, March 31st, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Evelyn Nesbit, by Gertrude Kasebier

…all forcing me to post about you all the time. Shorpy‘s on a Gertrude Kasebier kick, who I just love. And, all the portraits seem to be of people who either have a whiff of scandal or they die of tuberculosis (I <3 consumption so hardcore). Like Evelyn Nesbit here, whose husband killed her former lover.

Update: Oh, and read the comments, too! Like this one:

This is one of the tamer photographs that [her lover] Stanford White had taken of Evelyn, who was one of the models for Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girl” drawings. After White dumped her for more “virginal” girls she was the mistress of John Barrymore. After White’s murder by her husband Harry K. Thaw, she was promised a million dollars by Thaw’s mother as a divorce settlement. Evelyn got the divorce but not the money. After an indifferent career as a vaudeville performer, silent film performer and club manager, she overcame alcoholism and an addiction to morphine as well as a number of suicide attempts. She eventually settled down and taught classes in ceramics. She died in California in 1967 at age 82.


Friday, March 7th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

One of my humble contributions to the history of the photobooth

God I love these things… Anyways, there’s a short excerpt on the Daily Telegraph website from the book ‘American Photobooth,’ by N√§kki Goranin, detailing the history of the Photomaton, with some great accompanying photos… My favorite part:

Even today, some 80-plus years since the first Photomaton, the phone calls continue to come into the main Texas office. The most frequent requests are from customers desperate to retrieve what they believe are negatives of photos taken the night before. Bambi Torres, Photo-Me’s encylopedia of mechanical facts, has constantly to reassure people there are no negatives.