While researching George Méliès I came across a photographic tradition that started from the 1900’s through to the 1930’s. This tradition was to get your photograph taken while sitting on a novelty ‘Paper Moon’.
‘Paper Moon’ portraits were generally an American phenomenon. There is not much information about how and why they started. There was however a general fascination with the moon at the turn of the century. The first successful flight of an airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 redefined the realms of possibility for humans and flying to the moon became a goal within the grasp of those on earth.
The passing of Halley’s Comet in 1910 probably caused a greater interest, and many Paper Moon photos from this time have a comet on the backdrop.
Studios took advantage of this by creating all kinds of interesting and fun photo backdrops and props, and the Paper Moon was one of the most popular.
“Paper Moon” photographs were often shot in portable photographic booths that could be found at arcades, carnivals and county fairs. They record a special piece of history.
This style of photography was as great departure from the formal studio portraits. ‘Paper Moon’ portraits were cheap enough so that anybody could afford to have one taken.
Many of the people posing on the paper moons were obviously having a good time – smiling, messing about for the camera – something that was almost never done in studio portraits of the day.
An interesting fact about most examples of paper moon photographs is that we can see stars in the center of the moon’s crescent… something, which in reality is blocked by the darkly shadowed sphere of the moon. It was clearly something not understood in the pre-space travel era of early 20th century America and still frequently overlooked today.
Here is my collection of ‘Paper Moon’ images so far.
I love the group shots with the giant moon and everyone climbing all over it.
Many songs at this time were also inspired by the moon, here are a few of my favourite examples:
It’s Only A Paper Moon – Ella Fitzgerald & Delta Rhythm Boys (1945)
Blue Moon – Greta Keller (1935)
How High The Moon – Les Paul & Mary Ford (original 78 rpm)
The Moon Is Low – George Olsen & His Orch. (1930)
Fly Me To The Moon – Frank Sinatra
Moonglow – Artie Shaw
Moonstruck – Gertie Millar (1909)
Under The Moon – Jan Garber and his Orchestra (1927)
Moonlight Savings Time – High Hatters
The Moon Got In My Eyes – Carroll Gibbons & The Savoy Hotel Orpheans (1937)
Half A Moon – Hal Swain’s New Princes Orchestra (1927)