Monday, September 22, 2014

October: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Happy Almost October Smithies! As you probably already know (especially if you were at the last meeting), this month's book club pick is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. We warned you that it was weird. We warned you that it was creepy. And you didn't believe us until you flipped through the book itself and saw all those strange photos that the author included. Photos like these:

Basically, photos that are super mega creepy and will haunt your dreams for years to come. So where did Ransom Riggs even get these pictures? Where did he come up with this idea?? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING??? Let's talk it out. 

Part of what Ransom Riggs does is called found photography. Found photography, by definition (according to Wikipedia) is "a genre of photography and/or visual art based on the recovery (and possible exhibition) of lost, unclaimed, or discarded photographs." But where do you even get old photographs like this? Well, they are kind of everywhere when you look hard enough. There is an abundance of them in antique stores and thrift shops. And you can usually find them at flea markets, and yard and estate sales as well. Oftentimes you can buy who big packets of them in antique stores for $5 or less. They don't have a lot of value (unless they are old tin-type photographs), but there are people out there who collect this kind of stuff. People like Ransom Riggs. So all of these photos above, and the ones in the book, are real photographs taken way back when. Riggs was actually encouraged by his agent to use his collection of photos for a book, from there he compiled a narrative that forms the backbone of Miss Peregrine's Home of Peculiar Children. So, the entire thing came from a bunch of creepy photos that Riggs had been collecting!

Since Miss Peregrine's Home is stuck in a time loop in 1940, we could safely assume that if they were using cameras in the story, they would have probably been Kodak Brownies. Invented by George Eastman in 1901, the Brownie basically revolutionized the way people took photos. It was easy enough for the common person to use to take family photographs, but well made enough that Ansel Adams used it to create some of his now famous black and white photos of nature at it's finest. The Brownie was actually his first camera, given to him by his father on their first trip to Yosemite. 

Ansel Adams, Monolith, The Face of Half-Dome
However, some of the photos in Ransom Riggs' collection could be quite a bit older than the Kodak Brownie. The very first photo EVER TAKEN was a daguerreotype, and after that came calotypes and tablotypes and tintypes and  etc. etc. I could go on and on. The history of photography is insane and crazy and definitely worth checking out.

The oldest known photograph in existence, by Joseph Nicephore Niepce
Also worth mentioning on this weird trip through photographic history are Victorian post-mortem portraits. Back in ye olden tymes of the 1800's, it was popular to take memorial photos of your loved ones after they died. Which, I don't know about you, but to me sounds suuuuuper creepy. Sometimes the dead person would be photographed alone, or sometimes they would be family members. They would go as far as to use stands and set ups to pose the dead person as if they were alive. And on tintypes, they could paint in a faint blush on their cheeks to make them seem...not dead. Oftentimes this was done for babies or children who had died young, but post-mortem photos were available to anyone who wanted them and had the money to pay for them.

Anyway, I should probably wrap this up. I have been rambling about photography for long enough. But! If you want to know more about the book, about the history of photography, or about the creepy history of post-mortem photographs, just check out some of the links below. And I will see you all next Thursday on the 2nd!

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