Long before Instagram, photo booths or even the common ownership of a camera, you could get your photograph taken sitting on the moon. Often a fixture at fairs, parties and carnivals, people sat in the crescent of a smiling “paper moon,” as if lifted to the stars. A photographic phenomena primarily of the early half of the 20th century, it captivated the imagination of a world pre-Photoshop and gave many a memorable image of great times.
These selected images, from Flickr group It’s Only a Paper Moon, are a vision of that bygone era, complete with stylish vintage fashions. The era is excellently captured in the award winning 1973 film, Paper Moon, featuring Ryan & Tatum O’Neil. This touching and highly entertaining black and white period piece centers around the Great Depression in America and the bonding of two very unlikely friends – a young girl and a hustler selling bibles to the families of the recently deceased. In one of the film’s more poignant moments we are treated to Tatum O’Neil getting her picture taken on a paper moon at the county fair.
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.
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