Shorpy was a real person, a young boy who worked as a greaser in a coal mine. In 1910, his photo was captured in Jefferson County, Alabama, by a photographer named Lewis Wickes Hine. Now, more than 100 years later, that photograph has inspired a cult following on the wildly popular website bearing his namesake: Shorpy.com.
The site was created by a former Washington Post editor. He scours the Library of Congress web archives for photographs and digitally enhances them in high-definition to focus light, shadow, contrast, luminescence and composition in a most remarkable way. They are then resold as enlarged prints on Shorpy.com.
Photos from the “100-Year-Old-Photo Blog” span the 1850’s to 1950’s. For vintage photo buffs, this site is a goldmine, especially for those who like to share on Pinterest.
Virtually every image on the Library of Congress site is public domain, so long as republications are cited (which Shorpy does, see any image caption on the site.) Some say the Shorpy process of earning cash and loyal followers by replicating prints with minimal alteration is shady. Some think it’s genius. Either way, Library of Congress images largely belong to the American people, the site is a golden egg for website owners who are willing to dig. For those who aren’t so willing to dig, there is Shorpy who is doing it for you.
You will see throughout World on a Fork that we use a lot of images from the Library of Congress. Like this one of Harry Houdini — Self-Marketing Magician Extraordinaire; or this iconic image of John F. Kennedy giving his Inaugural Address. Or of French literary master, Honoré de Balzac. We do not use images from Shorpy because that’s his ball of wax. But we will post them here because there are some dandy’s:
Shorpy died in a coal mine accident in 1927.
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