Monday, December 12, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Etsy Descriptions

I've noticed something when I peruse online sites for items to use as samples in classes. Some people who sell ephemera and photos come up with some pretty strange titles and descriptions for their wares. For example:

A seller titles a photo "But She's Got Cooties" and explains, "This is an original vintage photograph from the 1940s. It shows a brother and sister sitting on a bench, the brother doesn't seem very happy about it." Actually, to me, the brother seems perfectly comfortable to be sitting on a park bench with his sister, but he SEEMS to be squinting into the sun!

I have wondered about these descriptions lately. Does labeling images with a cute or catchy title, pointing out people's flaws, or otherwise subjectively responding to an image enhance its worth to a potential buyer?

For another image, the same seller titles it "Mischief on His Mind" and writes, "This is an original vintage photograph from the 1940s. It shows a young boy on his porch with toy gun at his hip and a trouble making look on his face." I don't see trouble. Here I see boredom. I wonder if the boy is unhappy to be stopped during his play so that a grownup can take a picture, but I don't know this for sure. I certainly would not call this image, "Taking a Breather from Cowboys and Indians So Mom Can Take a Picture."

I find myself connecting these labeled images to museum paintings. Is this labeling of images a way of marketing or a way of "curating?" Do the sellers really believe the things they point out in the images or is it solely a gimmick?  If these sellers really are interpreting these photos in these ways that are perplexing to a professional, does this give cultural heritage professionals some room for educating? I wonder if a museum can use online Etsy images as a tool for helping individuals better interpret the images they see.  

Does it really matter that people subjectively interpret and label such photos? I think it does and that's why I feel compelled to point out these strange descriptions in this blog. The meaning we attach to images we see should be backed by knowledge and research. It is easy to ascribe meaning to something based on our own point of view and experiences. It is much harder to put our personal feelings aside to make educated interpretations about the things we see and hear. So while the descriptions may be "clever," they help perpetuate stereotypes, prejudices, misinformation, and ignorance. 

And on that note, I'm going to share an image I purchased that one might call "cute." It has a great composition, and the kid's eyes just pull me in. I am not going to say something such as the girl is playing mommy or that she is taking her new carriage from grandma for a spin because I just don't know if that is true. I hope that you enjoy it anyway - without a catchy title.

 Pushing Dolly in a Stroller- 1940s Vintage Photograph

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