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The Hand in the Pocket

Washington, D.C., circa 1911. “National Photo Co. postcard shipment.” A very young-looking Herbert French on the left with his associate “Artie” Leonard at their H Street studio. 8×10 glass negative.

Daily life, as recorded on 8×10 glass negatives fromShorpy Historical Photo Archive :: The Young Entrepreneurs: 1911, is often seen in more detail than our faux-vintage Instagram age.

How Many Digital Photos Will Be Taken in 2017 ?   It’s predicted there will be 7.5 billion people in the world in 2017, and about 5 billion of them will have a mobile phone. Let’s say roughly 80% of those phones have a built-in camera: around 4 billion people. And let’s say they take 10 photos per day – that’s 3,650 photos per year, per person. That adds up to more than 14 trillion photos annually (14,600,000,000,000).

One of the persistent pleasures in very old photographs is that they hold a lot of detail if you but care to look; details that tell you the things behind these images lived. I went into this — in some detail — myself in The Summer of Our Content. I notice it again here in one telling detail from the photo cited above from Shorpy. Only this time it is a detail in the hands of the men pictured. With the man on the left, his left hand casually grasps a claw hammer as he strikes the casual pose of a man taking a brief portrait break.

This is not at all that remarkable. Hands holding tools are common in all photography of the men from a time when men actively built the nation. But if we look closely at the man on the right we can see the small confirmation of this lost moment in time in Washington DC over a century past. We see this:

It’s by way of this kind of detail that these sections of times lost beyond recall hold their fascination. That moment when time had a stop and we can see down into the marrow of things; into the weight and the heft of the fabric of trousers stretched over the knuckles of a now long dead hand. For all the trillions of images that we capture now, we won’t leave that much of mark.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sam L. April 18, 2019, 11:29 AM

    Not gangsters, then?? I…am disappoint!

  • rabbit tobacco April 18, 2019, 1:55 PM

    Hand in the pocket, I thought this was about lawyers:)

  • ghostsniper April 18, 2019, 2:59 PM

    10 photos a day? On average? Jayziss. These people need to be put to meaningful work for about 16 hours a day, for the first time in their worthless lives.

    Both pix are left hand shots. The guy on the right is jiggling change in his pocket – bored.
    The hammer dood is bored too, but ready for whatever. Nobody using a hammer for legitimate purpose does so while attired in a suit, on the skreet, unless he’s a sales dik getting ready to rip up them packing crates and get that shit up on the shelves. Maybe that’s why he’s holding it backwards. Most likely he is twirling it in his hand, again boredom, and the pik was snapped while it was in the backward position. The sign in the window says National Photo Company, ‘splains why they’re standing there looking at the photog, and why is that bike mounted on that post? (made ya look ya durty crook…..)

  • Larry Geiger April 18, 2019, 3:15 PM

    The man with the suit and tie and hammer is nailing shut shipping crates or opening shipping crates. I’m assuming that they are full of supplies for or from the National Photo Company.

  • SLM April 18, 2019, 4:05 PM

    I remember looking at the pictures in LIFE and LOOK magazines and discovering details that gave further depth to the subject.

  • Larry Geiger April 18, 2019, 5:22 PM

    They are uncrating something. The contents are around the man with his hand in his pocket. And, yes, in those days a man in a suit would be doing this kind of work on the sidewalk in front of his business in a suit and tie.

  • Terry April 18, 2019, 5:58 PM

    My father taught us boys at an early age that you do not stand around or walk with your hand in a pocket. Unless one was withdrawing a pocket knife or such.

  • Tom Hyland April 18, 2019, 6:15 PM

    Ghost, are referring to the tiny little bicycle on the right, mounted on a post? Those are the kind ridden by poodles in the circus.

  • Ulysses Toole April 18, 2019, 7:46 PM

    I find myself watching pron for the same reason. What’s in the background. Is this a motel, or rented home, or studio decorations? Suitcase of clothes on the floor, water bottle on the washer/dryer, you know stuff that sticks out.

  • AesopFan April 18, 2019, 8:26 PM

    The bicycle is not mounted on the post; it is leaning up against what looks like a storage box in the background, against the fence in the alley.
    Of the trillions of pictures taken this year, tens of thousands were of the Notre Dame fire.
    As I looked at some of them on-line, I marvelled at the composition and photographical mastery of many of them, on a par with the old Saturday Evening Post and Look and Life magazines, but rendered to us in minutes rather than months.

  • Anonymous April 19, 2019, 2:09 AM

    Associate “Artie” on the right has his hand in his pocket because his hammer is lying on the sidewalk to his left/your right.

    The neighborhood was changing; if you drill down a little farther in the comments you’ll find “the office” from 1917 with considerable architectural and business changes. Pull up the address on Google Maps, and it’s all gone now, new and improved, so to speak.


  • The Usual Suspect April 19, 2019, 8:07 AM

    It’s almost as if they are moving from one location to another, the address on the crate says “From” National ??????? (likely National Photo Co.) but the crates have been delivered to a building with the same name on the windows. They are opening the crate(s) not closing them, they have opened the one lying on it’s side as the edge board is splintered and lying of the ground the smaller boxes have been removed and stacked on the other boxes and porch. The box behind the man on the right is also open and again boards with nails in them are on the ground. It also probably autumn, no leaves on the tree. Hand in the pocket signifies nothing special to me. BTW, I do not have a mobile phone and do not take 10 pictures per day. The hammer is amazing in itself, it’s well over one hundred years old and the same hammer is still sold today, timeless design.

  • Ray Van Dune April 19, 2019, 10:22 AM

    Does anyone know what the many small boxes contain? If it was a shoe store, I could guess, but…

  • ghostsniper April 19, 2019, 11:18 AM

    “Does anyone know what the many small boxes contain?”
    Yes. A very small percentage of the cellphone pix that were taken the day before.

    “…tiny little bicycle on the right, mounted on a post?”
    Right. Comparing to the closest dood, I’d say 16″ wheels. Probably about the right size for standard sized trained poodles, like the ones you seen on the Ed Sullivan Show that were riding the bikes on that cable suspended about 8′ above the stage floor. When 2 of them popped wheelstands at the same time going in opposite directions everyone in the living room lost it.

    By today’s standards that railing would be in violation of multiple codes and where the hell is that ada ramp?

  • Tom Hyland April 21, 2019, 5:51 AM

    AesopFan… that’s a joke son… a joke. Ghost inferred the bicycle was mounted on a post and then I endorsed the illusion. Thanks for explaining it to all. Contact my attorney.


  • Rich April 22, 2019, 11:00 AM

    The shipping crates contain boxes of photo postcards. A postcard was put on the end of each box showing the contents. One of the crates is labeled with “Keep Dry” because any water would have ruined everything.

    The tree has no leaves and there are no leaves on the ground. If the tree isn’t dead, then this photo might have been taken in the fall or winter, maybe very early spring. However, there are several open windows and doors indicating moderate to warm temperatures. Also, since there are no shadows, it must have been cloudy or overcast.