When you are at a thrift store, you sometimes see abandoned photo albums, family portraits, and wedding pictures from long ago. The reasons why these images are found there can be multiple, like the previous owner doesn’t have family to look after these when these have passed away. So there it is, someone’s past without any context: vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.
I always feel a bit shy to go through these abandoned pictures, I feel myself looking into other peoples lives without their consent. Voyeurism you may call it. On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that these pictures end up at a thrift store and not in a landfill or incinerator so that the labor of taking and development them was not for nothing.
Some people go through these abandoned pictures to find a new and unknown Vivian Mayer. The story of a collection of negatives and prints owned by an elderly lady that was bought at an auction by a publisher is well known: the publisher made loads of money and the great photos where saved from oblivion. I’m not hunting to find an undiscovered Mayer, but occasionally I find a photograph interesting enough to take it home.
I found this picture of miners at a thrift store/crafts center in Denver, Colorado. On the picture are six miners. From the look of their clothes, the tools and the look and feel of the photographic paper, this picture was taken around the turn of the 20th century. At the back of the picture it is written: “Hard rock crew Probably Cripple Creek, David Owens Dainell, jr in foreground”.
In the Cripple Creek region were many gold mines. Working conditions where harsh. Mining accidents were very common and when you where not killed by falling rock, the dust from the mining gave you a lethal lung disease. The hydraulic drill was nick-named a widow maker because of the dust particles that where released while using it. Protective masks where not common at the time.
In 1890 gold was discovered in Cripple Creek and by 1900 there were over 500 mines operating in the district. The great wealth coming out of the mines turned Cripple Creek into a bustling and prosperous city of over 35,000 people. 75 Saloons and numerous brothels parted miners from their pay. Like most mining boomtowns, Cripple Creek’s mining days were over by World War Two and the population of Cripple Creek shrunk dramatically to ghost town proportions. Cripple Creek has been reborn as a tourist and gambling center in the 1990’s.
More than 100 years later a random person finds an abandoned picture, takes it home to Amsterdam and writes a blog about it. Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.