One of the cleverest things I have ever seen in a movie was how the movie The Wizard of Oz handled going from Kansas to the fantasy land of Oz. The movie began as a black and white movie, but when Dorothy’ lands in Oz and looks out of the house, the world is in color. Such a simple trick and yet so effective. So I think I will steal that trick.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken.]
Our journey starts in the present day—or, rather, last Thanksgiving weekend, when my friend Tsuki and I decided to go and do a little exploring while the various denizens of Ohio were getting their tryptophane fix on. It was a cold, snowy day, presaging the second nasty Ohio polar vortex winter in a row.
We decided to head east—I say “we,” but it was my idea to head east, as I thought I might have an opportunity to visit something I had discovered while doing a solitary excursion on Christmas day in 2013. I had figured that Christmas might be a peaceful quiet day to go on an excursion, and it was. While driving around, I ended up wandering through the town of Cambridge, Ohio, along I-70 between Zanesville and the West Virginia border. There I discovered that every holiday season, Cambridgians erect a series of displays featuring Dickensian holiday activities, using clothed mannequins with carved wooden heads. I was quite taken by this attractive and fun sort of commemoration of the holiday season. I took some photographs, but I was testing out a new camera at the time, my first DSLR, and I neither really knew how to use it yet, nor did I anticipate the degree of motion blur it would generate. Moreover, I do not think I had yet realized at that time how much RAW files need post-processing. So the result was that many of the photos were not usable and even the ones that were left something to be desired (you can judge for yourself).
So, when Tsuki and I decided to spend the day after Thanksgiving (I think it was that day) tootling around Ohio, it dawned on me that the mannequins might be up already, so I wanted to drive to Cambridge and find out—and try to redeem myself with some better photographs. Tsuki kindly obliged, so off we went.
This Part 1 of my 41st Excursion is solely a Cambridge-related blog entry. And it is a little different. If you are one of the rare readers of this blog, you will know that I often share photographs here of a variety of different types and style—black and white, color, realistic, a bit stylized, perhaps even artificially aged. Unlike a professional photo shoot, where one would expect there to be a consistent look and feel among the photographs, here the images reflect me experimenting, trying to learn the craft of photography, what works and what doesn’t work, and what sorts of styles and presentations I like.
But in this case, I decided that to process the photographs more or less uniformly, all as black and white photographs, which I thought would emphasize the “old time-iness” of the scenes photographed here, as well as make a virtue out of the drab cloudy day. So in this regard, the photographs here are different from most other Unearthed Ohio blog entries.
But let’s set the mood here. As one approaches Cambridge (population 11, 129, salute!), one has to cross a bridge then head up a hill towards the main drag. As one approaches the hill, this Bull Durham-bedecked building is the familiar sight that lets you know you are entering Cambridge. Here it stands out against the dull, snowy landscape. The main drag (a brief merger of US 22 and US 40) runs between the two buildings shown here. Most of the mannequins are situated along this stretch of road.
So let’s now do a reverse Wizard of Oz and go from color to black and white. That should get us in the proper mood for looking at some Victorian-ish mannequins.
Here’s a typical little diorama. Some of the mannequins appear on their own, directly on the sidewalk, but often they are set up on little platforms erected around streetlights—as here. This diorama is called “The Candle Seller”—a little placard names each diorama and provides some education for the kids—in this case, providing a little explanation of old types of candles such as tallow candles. The woman seems distracted; I think she has spotted Bigfoot over the candle seller’s shoulder.
Yes, that is definitely the visage of a woman who has spotted Bigfoot. The mannequins tended to provide some good contrast and texture, lending themselves to black and white shots.
I show this close-up of the candle seller to give you a better look of the carved wooden heads that capitate every mannequin. You’ll note that they are painted as well. This guy definitely has a set of lips on him.
I did not bother to look at the placards for most of these dioramas, so I do not know what this distinguished looking old African-American man was supposed to be doing with the ladder. For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, this was one of the photographs I most liked. You can see a number of other mannequins on both sides of the street in the background.
This photo has a horrible composition and you’ll just have to forgive me for that. Just to the left of the old lady mannequin was a real life human woman and shop-owner opening up her store, which was some sort of kid’s clothing or toy shop or something. She was was standing with her show door open, staring off into the street for the longest time. Eventually I got tired of waiting for her to go inside and just took the photograph anyway, thinking that maybe the juxtaposition of human and mannequin would be interesting. I was wrong. I thought the mannequin was mildly intrinsically interesting, so I cropped out the shopkeeper and kept the mannequin. In an ideal world, she would be positioned on the right of the photo, with empty space in front of her. With this composition, you expect some sort of serial killer to come into the frame from the right and strangle the old biddy.
I liked this “Welcome to Cambridge” diorama. Apparently, when one enters Dickensian Cambridge, one is greeted by the mayor and by a handicapped street urchin. “Will work for gruel.”
We can see why the urchin is handicapped, because here is the town doctor and I don’t have much confidence in him. His stethoscope is not going to help that guy’s arm at all. Say what you will about Obamacare, but it beats Mannequincare.
These were probably my favorite mannequins, a man and a woman sitting and waiting, perhaps for a trolley. Both are daydreaming or even dozing off, with the man having a particularly blissful sleeping countenance. He seems to be holding a package—perhaps a Christmas present for someone. I also liked his skinny little head on top of those big, wide shoulders.
This is me, the photographer! If I were a Cambridgian mannequin, perhaps. And if I weren’t fat. Or bald. The photographer looks a little dapper. I hear his boudoir photography is the talk of the town. His subject, however, is a bit stiff.
Judging by the musical score in the man’s arm, these might be a trio of carolers. They are dressed nicely for the weather.
I am not sure if this diorama of the town police officer is him looking over the town drunk or looking over someone he has just shot. Perhaps both. A little odd, don’t you think? He should be getting a mannequin cat out of a tree or something.
Well, that’s it. Next year I will try to find some other mannequins to photograph. In part 2, we head out into the rustic countryside…
I will definitely have to visit Cambridge sometime, near the Christmas holiday, to see these displays. Very creative and I like the old-time Dickensian feel. A doable trip as I just live to the west in central Indiana. Thanks for another wonderful post, Mark!