The vacation slideshow was a familiar social ritual in middle-class American homes in the 1950s and 1960s. It was often considered something of an ordeal, with friends and neighbors expected too “ooh” and “ah” at a slide of a spectacular sunset at the beach or chuckle at family members mugging for the camera in a National Park somewhere.

It could be seen as a testament to conspicuous consumption — proof that a family had the resources to travel to distant scenic places purely for pleasure.

But it was also a kind of art form, or potentially so. The slides were expected to provide a mix of beauty shots, gag shots and records of roadside oddities. It could express the exhilaration of travel, wonder at new sights seen, and constitute a documentary record of an important event in a family’s history. And it could have a strong aesthetic component, given Kodak’s ubiquitous and truly miraculous slide film, available almost everywhere for increasingly affordable cameras.  A well-exposed Kodachrome slide is a thing of beauty, quite apart from whatever it happens to record.

The vacation slideshow had its roots in the illustrated lantern-slide lecture of the late 19th- Century, which often featured narrated views of exotic locales. It morphed to a limited degree into home-movie nights, although fewer people owned movie cameras than owned still cameras, and then disappeared in the age of video and the taking and sharing of photos via phones and the Internet, often live from the places being visited.

But it has returned in another form — the “sets” available on photo-sharing sites like Flickr. The social dimension of the viewing experience has been curtailed, but this confers certain advantages — one can proceed through the “slideshow” at one’s own pace, the “narration” is limited usually to brief captions, and one is not socially obliged to respond to each image in the presence of the person who made it.

[Image © Ray Sawhill]

Here’s a link to a “vacation slideshow” by Ray Sawhill, a retired writer (who still writes a lot) with a sharp eye, an enthusiasm for travel and an appreciation of good food and drink of all sorts — Arizona.  One can flip through it in a short amount of time and get a good picture of a trip Ray and his wife Polly Frost took to Arizona, where Polly was performing her one-woman comic-dramatic monologue show.

[Image © Ray Sawhill]

There are many other kinds of slideshow-type sets on photo-sharing sites — recording the passions of collectors (LP covers) or delight in old advertising art or an appreciation of vintage family snapshots by other people — but the personal “vacation slideshow” is worth particular attention, because of its connection with older forms of photo sharing.

[Image © Ray Sawhill]

It will be interesting to see how, or if, the form develops in the future, now that’s so easy to take respectable photos everywhere, and so easy to assemble and display them online, making them available not to a captive audience of friends and neighbors, but to the world.

Click on the images to enlarge.


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