Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A gentler time

From my perspective (standing at the circulation desk, across the hallway from the museum's entrance) I would say that two of the most popular exhibits at the Tongass Historical Museum has been the collections of old Ketchikan photos taken by Paulu Saari in the 1950's. Even if you weren't living in Ketchikan at the time - or living at all - there's something really fun about looking at photos from the post-war period.
The Photographs of Homer Page: the Guggenheim year, New York 1949-1950 captures that same fascinating time in an even more complicated place. It was a period when men wore hats and waistbands right up to their chest, and women wore white gloves and stockings with seams. Fabric was 29¢ a yard, baseball scorecards were a dime, and you could get a suit for $10. O.K., it probably wasn't a great suit, but it was made right there in the Garment District. One of the photos shows a rack of paperback books - probably Pocket Books - with titles from Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Zane Grey. I think I own one of the editions there on the rack.
But, of course, as much as things change some things are always the same. Images of men passed out on the sidewalks and in doorways, graffiti in the subway, matronly women grilling themselves on the sands of Coney Island, and the hard expressions on some of the faces can still be seen in the Big Apple today. One of my favorite photos is of a man in a suit standing before a newsstand. Is he intently reading the day's edition of The Public Guardian, or is he staring at the girlie magazines and the pinup illustrations being displayed on the next row down? Ah, a mystery for the ages....

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