The Magnet #70: Cool Media Collections
Vernacular photos, videos of everyday life in the past, and 1960s radio station archive
This week, I want to share some (free!) media collections I’ve enjoyed lately.
John Margolies' Roadside America photography archive
If you like buildings that resemble dinosaurs, watermelons, spaceships, and teapots, you’re in luck. From 1968–2008, architectural critic and curator John Margolies took over 11,000 photographs of vernacular buildings — many in the shape of animals, people, household objects, food items, and other unusual designs — across the United States. The U.S. Library of Congress purchased and uploaded the intellectual property rights to Margolies’ entire collection. Browse the photos here, and use them as you wish with no copyright restrictions.
The Library of Congress’s introduction includes this funny excerpt about Margolies’ routine:
Margolies normally rented a car and "embark[ed] in the late spring or after Labor Day, when the families and tourists were not crowding the roads." He packed "coolers for keeping the film cool" and "separate bags for [toiletries] and kitchen [supplies]." Most nights, he stayed in motels, which he documented in Home Away From Home: Motels in America (1995). He always brought "clothespins to secure the drapes" and "a Fred Flintstone night light on a 20-foot extension cord to illuminate unfamiliar bathrooms," says [the late Phil] Patton. He preferred to photograph early mornings with cloudless, blue skies and would skip sites if the light wasn't right or if cars blocked the scene. As he stated in Roadside America, "I love the light at that time of day; it's like golden syrup. Everything is fresh and no one is there to bother you."
YouTube channel of people in past decades doing ordinary things
I don’t know how the curator of the Vampire Robot YouTube Channel finds these videos of people from past decades doing ordinary things, but I find them fascinating. There’s a 1999 video of people at a hardware store in Colorado stocking up on Y2K doomsday preparedness items, like gas generators and kerosene heaters. There’s a 1974 video of young adults watching Nixon resign on TV. There’s a video of people buying iPads on launch day at the 5th Avenue Apple store in New York City on April 3rd, 2010. There’s a video of someone browsing Amazon.com in 1997. There’s a video of Sears employees’ and customers’ reactions to 9/11 being reported on TV news. And there are many more. Anthropologists of the future will love these videos.