Last night the Art Institute of Chicago offered free admission to its Magritte exhibition in exchange for an everyday object of surrealism. The paintings of Magritte along with his contemporaries like Salvador Dali, often featured familiar, even mundane, subject matter including bowler hats, apples, clocks and bells. What makes their pieces striking, however, was the way they twisted our perception of these objects and created environments that could not exist within the physical bounds of our world. The dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish qualities of their paintings can be explained by their affinity for Freud and the psychoanalysis approach to psychology.
Found photos, divorced from their original context, take on a surreal quality; due to the subject matter that’s unfamiliar to contemporary audiences or the composition of the image. When flipping through stacks of the usual family snapshots and mundane travel photos I look for the whimsical and absurd, or anything that shows the humor of the photographer.
A well dressed gentleman with his pet cat, positioned so he’s “walking” on two legs. The photo above and the one below are both stamped December 22, 1931 Omaha, Nebraska.
Doesn’t everyone don evening attire including a full length fur coat and heels to hike up a mountain?
An Edwardian French real photo postcard featuring a dapper chap wishing you Bonne Fete (Happy Birthday). While it appears he’s in a greenhouse or conservatory, he’s actually in a studio in front of a painted backdrop.
The original inspiration for today’s “style rides”, this gentleman proudly poses with his bicycle while dressed in a tie, jacket and pocket watch.
A real photo postcard depicting a Chicago street scene, likely downtown based on the abundance of shops and restaurants. It can be dated to 1923 or earlier based on the old phone exchange, “Seeley 540”. What I found unusual is that a telephone number would be advertised on the side of a horse-drawn cart, as I think of the technology co-existing with cars rather than horse-drawn vehicles.
Stoic faces combined with whimsical costumes– it’s likely that this portrait depicts a group of traveling musicians. Even though the photo was shot in an indoor studio, there is a painted backdrop to suggest nature and even hay spread on the floor.
The back of the cabinet card features writing in Swedish and illustrations of the “fathers” of photography including Daguerre and Talbot.
Chicago’s version of Coney Island, Riverview amusement park opened in 1904 and was sadly torn down in 1967.
The two mass produced souvenir postcards from Riverview feature black and photos of “Hades”, one of the park’s attractions, and a crowd of people viewing a wedding performed on the Pair-O-Chutes. Both date to 1943.
A local street photographer shot this image in 1973, it’s titled “Tourisa” (tourist). The subject looks like she belongs on a beach, not on a dirty city sidewalk next to a trash can.