One day some time ago, exactly when is impossible to know for sure, a cat looked up at a camera. It’s unlikely it knew what the dark-colored box was exactly, perhaps expecting food or hearing a curious click, with perfectly positioned paws and an engaging posture the cat looked up, its eyes meeting with the shutter at the exact moment necessary to create a picture worth saving. And saved it was.
It’s a curious thing, what attracts collectors of vintage photos to one or the other. When you come across them there are usually an abundance to look through. Most are of people, now removed from able identification in a photo, some are of buildings, landscapes or of pets. Some are carefully positioned and some taken by chance.
I was sifting through a box of photos at the Buchanan Market in Dallas when I came across this cat photo. Initially I threw it back into the pile and then after five or six others lay on top, I went back for it. It wasn’t the best photo speaking on technical terms, a little blurry without much contrast. However such a series of events had to be in place for it to look the way it does. The qualities that make it technically insufficient today emphasize the time and distance that separate us now from the moment the light reflected off the tuxedo cat, went through the shutter and hit the film.
A few years back, random photos from other people would not have been given second thought. They would not have been considered art or a collectible. Today I see them with small prices, 25 cents, $1.00 or even $5.00. Photos before 1920 are more. It was after that when photography became more mainstream and inexpensive. With that the number of photos and the mundane nature of the subjects proliferated. With that, it’s hard to imagine much value.
Art lies within us, however. There are times when it escapes and makes itself visible in a painting or sculpture or photo, or here in this fleeting connection with a long-dead cat. I’m not going to argue that it’s great art. Surely not much planning or strategy was in play, likely just an amateur playing with a camera and a curious cat watching. But sometimes it’s those mundane moments we connect with the most, and sometimes the artistic qualities of an object are accidental.