20 Self-Deprecating Notes on Vintage Photos


UPDATE: Ransom Riggs has turned his found photos series into a book! You can order your copy here.

I started collecting found snapshots a few years ago -- at swap meets, antique shops and the like -- but the thing that got me started wasn't the photos themselves so much as the writing I'd sometimes find on the backs. When you're looking through bins of unsorted photos, every thirtieth one or so will have some writing on it. It's generally just identifying information ("me and Jerry at the Grand Canyon, 1947"), but sometimes you find really funny, revealing, emotional, surprising notes that transform the photo from something usual and kind of anonymous into something amazing and really personal. I'm putting together a book of my finds called Voices from the Other Side, but I figured I'd share some with our readers as well just to see what everyone thinks. (I posted another small batch -- of wartime photos -- back on July 4th.)

One thing I've found a lot of is photos where people have written deprecating things -- usually about themselves -- on the back. "I look so fat here!" is a shockingly common theme; I guess people were as concerned with their weight (and as self-conscious about pictures of themselves) fifty and sixty years ago as they are today. I want to share some of these with you, not so much to laugh at (although they are funny) but to demonstrate how little our attitudes about ourselves have changed over the years. I'll start with one that I think pretty much sums it up:

When there are two people in the frame, like in the picture above, you have to wonder which of them hated the picture enough to write on it.

Why doesn't anyone call their nose a "beak" anymore? I'm going to bring it back.

I'm not as fat as I look here, it's the terrycloth pajamas over my bathing skirt plus wind.
(I love the background here -- back the 20s there was really only one kind of car you could buy, so that's what everyone had!)

A good ad for Ovaltine. See how fat I'm getting?

(Ovaltine ads, you may or may not remember, featured a lot of chubby-cute children. And just for the record, I don't see at all how fat she's getting. These people would've been shocked -- shocked! -- to see the size of our waistlines today.)

I just have to quit eating and work hard.

Sheesh ... ladies, you look fine!

I can't imagine ol "pigs guts" wrote this on his own picture -- but you never know. Then again, I have a feeling that the lady in the next picture did write her caption.

There are also lots of pictures out there of people eating, with things like "me with my mouth full -- AS USUAL" written on the back. Like this one:

This one's so sad and plain it's almost heartbreaking:

Don't feel bad, lady -- passport photos never look good:

I can't tell if this guy is making a face or he really looks like this:

Some people just have trouble posing:

We've all felt this way from time to time:

This last one is amazing -- I've never seen anyone go to such lengths to hide their face in a picture.

FRONT: I came out terrible so I put ink on my face and scratched it off.

BACK: This one came out terrible don't show it to any one.

UPDATE: Ransom Riggs has turned his Talking Pictures series into a book! You can order your copy here.

See Also...

Amazing Found Photos of Life During Wartime
More Found Photos: People in Trouble
Strange Geographies: The Mojave Desert's Airplane Graveyard