You Be the Judge

(People all kilter)THIS IS MY mea culpa. My note left in the top dresser drawer. My videotaped confession. I’ll say it just this once. Then I can’t be held responsible for whatever happens from here on out.

Have you ever fabricated a story, and then, having developed the details to within an inch of reality, and committed yourself so fully to its implausible undeniability, begun to lose track of your end of the thread? So that the line between what-you-know and what-you-made-up gets all fuzzy? To where you begin to question what’s fact and what’s fiction?

Me neither. But I’ve heard it can happen, and if it ever happens to me, it will be because of a story I made up to explain some strange photographs that began to surface a few years back.

These were simple, everyday snapshots you might find in your grandmother’s photo album. I happened to find mine in flea markets, and then in antique malls, and then, as I became more and more fascinated by them, they seemed to begin finding me. All black-and-white prints, mostly glossy, some with those decorative, crinkle-cut edges, they showed people posing for the camera, standing stock still, and in unison, leaning to one side.

Right off, let’s get the more rational explanation out of the way: In 1900, Kodak released the first Brownie camera, which sold for a dollar and allowed anyone to take a photograph by simply aiming the lens and pressing down a shutter release lever on one side. Of course, pushing down in this manner caused most people to inadvertently tilt the camera and thus capture a scene that appeared to be tilted as well.

But I have another explanation that seems, I don’t know, less boring and rational. Here goes.

Sometime early in the last century, an event of literally earthshaking proportions touched the lives of millions of Americans, perhaps even billions the world over. Suddenly and without warning, the earth tilted slightly to one side.

Admittedly, I’m unable to produce living witnesses to this fantastic blip on the electrocardiograph of time, and, other than a handful of vintage photographs, no empirical evidence survives. It is understandable, then, that some might question my claim. Lacking the ability to satisfy even the most elementary rules of evidentiary law, to go on and postulate that a phenomenon of such magnitude could have occurred stresses credulity.

But, to me, that it happened is clear and without doubt, as demonstrated by this small but unimpeachable collection of seemingly everyday snapshots. Created not by news photographers or documentarians but by private citizens, these prosaic images speak all the more convincingly because they are indeed of such ordinary origins. Yet, in the span of one short day, they made a record that would stand, one hundred years later, despite going unmentioned and unnoticed anywhere else. Gathered here for the first time, they collectively represent the sole surviving witness that cannot be ignored, of that day the earth tilted slightly to one side.


So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, as, from time to time, I post examples of the very photographs I’ve referred to. You be the judge. And, in this case at least, would you rather be the rational, boring judge, or an imaginative, visionary judge given to occasional flights of fancy?

See the videos here.