Santa Claus Story

The old man sat very still on the park bench, just as he had been requested. Although it was cold with the snow falling he wasn’t too bothered. After all the well spoken gentlemen had said he could keep the coat and the hat as long as they could capture his likeness on their photographic equipment. To be honest, he was grateful for a little attention too, although it was the clothing and the dime they had given him that was sure to help get through the next day or two.

They had seen him sitting there shivering and remarked about his beard and his blue eyes. He thought they were a little odd but then he wasn’t sure how the younger generation really acted any more. It had all been so different when he was their age.


He remained in his position for about 20 minutes while the young men fiddled about with their contraption, moving large plates of glass in wooden frames back and forth in a serious manner. His stomach was rumbling now, but he sat like a statue, as he had promised. There was no way he was going to jeopardize this offer. Finally, they thanked him and he slowly rose, stamped his feet and headed through the snow to where he knew he could get a warm meal and a hot drink on this cold day.

© Richard Reeve, 2015

Long Before Cell Phones

Long before cell phones were available there was a need for teams of individuals to maintain the huge numbers of individual telephone lines that criss-crossed the countryside.

This is an image taken as part of the Farm Security Administration Survey around 1939. I came across it when searching the Library of Congress several months ago and I thought it was such a great shot, showing everyday work, including improvising a safety beam with a tree branch! The original version had quite a few issues with fibers, lines, dust and other marks on it so I spent several hours cleaning up this PD image. When I was finished I also made a black and white version.

I share them both below although I still think the color image is better, as I like the sky and the earth tones of the guys’ clothing. What do you think?



#r2bcheerful2 – Buddy Holly

OK, I was going to get smart with this one, but failed. Obviously I am not going to be able to take a photo of Buddy Holly, or even any memorabilia associated with his hometown of Lubbock, TX. I thought I’d be a smart ass and take a photo of some holly buds in my garden, but that was not possible either. Instead I looked up to see if there are any PD images I could use and I found one on Wikipedia from Brunswick Records. I restored it by removing the dust, blurs and the ripped sticker in GIMP, and then thought I’d get creative and turn it into a cyanotype and a  photochrom style image. I don’t know which I like best so I posted all together.


Whatever way you look at Buddy Holly certainly looks cheerful in this promotional image and his music is undoubtedly some of the most influential over the last six decades in forming rock and roll and subsequent genres, as well as helping define the whole relationship between bands, their managers and their record companies.

Buddy Holly – his music will always a reason to be cheerful!

#r2bcheerful #r2bcheerful2

Reinterpreting Public Domain Images

The recent announcement by The New York Public Library (NYPL) that it is to share more of its public domain (PD) images with the public has prompted this short entry on PD images and their use. PD images are, as the description suggests, images that have no copyright attached to them and are therefore “free” to be used by the public in any means, including commercial reselling or reworking. Images may have never been copyrighted, the copyright may have expired (not renewed) or they were donated into the public domain.

Despite the NYPL’s recent announcement the largest source of easily available PD work, to my knowledge, remains the US Library of Congress (LOC) with over one million searchable items arranged in collections, out of a total of 15 million items. This provides a fascinating source of information, not only for the historian, but also for the artist to use either directly or as inspiration.

Like many others, I have used PD images in several works on my art site. I find the LOC site easy to navigate and almost addictive as I search through items. Not everything that can be viewed on screen is always downloadable, but often times large .jpegs are available and even very high quality .tiff files, which allows for some excellent artistic opportunities.

Generally speaking I don’t like to simply use the image “as is” but a quick google reverse image search shows that many people do just that, as they are legally allowed to. Instead I prefer to work on the image to some degree.This may mean just “cleaning up” the work, by removing scratches, dust and watermarks, and other artifacts, or it could be recovering details lost in the original, such as with this 19th century poster from the age of ballooning:


Other approaches I take may include selectively recoloring the image to add emphasis to an aspect of a photograph. Many people colorize PD images with varying degrees of artistic interpretation, often over doing it, in my opinion. I prefer a subtle color application, as as I have achieved with this photograph of Santa Claus but, as with all art, it’s really a matter of personal preference.


Finally, there is an opportunity to create a completely new artistic interpretation by blending imagery together to tell a new story. By way of example, I used the famous LOC image of an aging Geronimo together with four other photographs taken from his era and just thereafter to create this unique composite image to show how much America changed during the lifetime of one of its indigenous people:


Note that by creating a completely new artwork, involving significant artistic interpretation and work the resulting image is no longer in the public domain and is now copyrighted by the artist (that’s me, folks).

Even if you don’t get as hooked on this source of history and art as I have done, it a least provides a fascinating way to see images of bygone days whilst browsing the library catalogs from your laptop.


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