The Internet yukked it up this past year over the stone-washed camp of the blog Awkward Family Photos. It became an instant meme, and even led to a forthcoming book blurbed by no less a joker than Judd Apatow. If the phenomenon got mileage from the bad ‘dos and goofy pleats of decades past, at its heart lay the simple pleasure of bringing our own frames of reference to intimate portraits of strangers.
Duke Digital Collections published the Hugh Mangum Photographs collection a few years ago, and while it inspires maybe a more dignified response and less of the beverage-snorting amusement, it affords many of the same simple pleasures. Mangum was an itinerant portrait photographer who set up shop along rail routes in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. As Karen Glynn, our Visual Materials Archivist wrote, “Mangum photographs are distinctive for the level of comfort exhibited by his subjects in front of the camera.” Using inexpensive negatives, he took numerous shots of his subjects, capturing them in relaxed poses.
This week we added images of the 688 negatives – many of which contain multiple exposures – to our flickr account. We hope they will inspire appreciation, but also closer examination. We would like to identify the subjects of these photographs, and enhance our frame of reference for them. Please help us if you can, by adding your comments to the versions of the photos there.
As I uploaded the photographs to flickr, I took a few moments to re-connect with this collection, one of the first digitization projects I worked on at Duke. I took particular interest in the small number of outdoor shots. In nearly all of Mangum’s photos the setting is the studio, but forty of them are exterior shots. Our metadata notes the distinction, so it’s easy to pull them up in a search. This link will list them all on a page, but I recommend selecting the 3-d wall option to view them in cooliris.
Continue reading The Hugh Mangum Photographs: People in brushy patches