A Vacation in Five Words

So I returned from my road trip to discover that I took a total of nine pictures.

I'm a lousy photographer and even worse at remembering to take pictures in the first place. As a consequence I have almost nothing to show for those sixteen epic hours at Disneyland, an ill-timed visit to a jellybean factory, or the frosted tragedy of a dropped birthday cake. No evidence of the hobo spider bite I got hours before leaving for California or the I'm-really-going-to-die-this-time feeling I always get on the freeways of Los Angeles when surrounded by speeding tanker trucks carrying flammable materials. No proof of the fantastic five-foot hole my nephew dug in the sand at Newport Beach which functioned as a novel working playpen for Child the Younger.

It's probably better that way.

I don't know about you, but the pictures I take are never the ones I wish I could take. They never quite sync up with the memories I have of the event they supposedly record and the effect is one of a poorly dubbed foreign film. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the idea of scrapbooking my photos into organized and themed albums makes me break out in hives. (If there were stickers to commemorate spider attacks or page borders to mimic the sounds that two bored children make in an enclosed space I might reconsider the hobby.)

I much prefer other people's pictures.

Two books of photographs I have been unable to put down are  American Photobooth  by Nakki Goranin and Suburban World: the Norling Photos by Brad Zellar. 

American Photobooth's introduction is the fascinating history of the photo booth and the people who invented, perfected, and championed it in its variety of forms. Photo booth pictures of Andy Warhol and honeymooning John and Jackie Kennedy are included. But the real draw of the book is the collection of plates: random finds of nameless Americans in all their creased, scuffed, stained, and noted glory.

Suburban World features the photographs of Irwin Denison Norling, a policeman who seemed to record the ordinary and extraordinary with equal and unblinking fervor. Black and white pictures of smiling girl scouts selling cookies and family suppers share the book with images of horrific car accidents and murder-suicide scenes. Gravely injured and presumably dead people are sometimes, but not always, visible. The pictures are simultaneously and paradoxically revealing yet inscrutable.

And then there is the book of pictures I just had to buy. 

Our True Intent is All for your Delight: the John Hinde Butlin's Photographs is a collection of amazing postcards from Butlin's Holiday Camps in Britain. These camps were conceived as a 'social revolution': affordable holiday destinations for the working classes visited by some 10 million people.

The carefully staged photographs feature restaurants, swimming pools, lakes, ballrooms, bars, and playgrounds of the 1960s and 1970s complete with all of the hideous themed décor, bad hair and unfortunate fashions mandated by those times. Throw in a giant fiberglass rooster or the guests snorkeling in a glass-walled aquarium and I'll bet you'll want your own copy, too. In the words of Martin Parr's introduction, the pictures "show an idealised view of the world and, after the passage of time, acquire the power of a lost dream."

Idealized worlds and lost dreams. Indeed. A vacation in five words.