Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.
We’ve all seen them while scouring through family photo albums. Vintage photos of our fathers sitting tube-side with a beer in their undies, doing a dangerous swan dive off a cliff into a shallow swimming hole, or sporting an equally dangerous mustache. These photos are the source of much amusement for families gathered for the holidays. And with oral histories from grandparents, siblings, and friends, these images are the true documents of a father’s life before kids, and capturing those first years navigating new parenthood.
Bradley Getty, author, and creator of the website Dads Are The Original Hipsters, loves these dad photos more than perhaps any other human on earth. Days are spent rifling through hundreds of submissions of young, hip, daring and geeky dads popping wheelies on motorcycles, hitting the beer bong like champs, sitting on a fire, or posing for a photo in their local 1980s punk band.
On the occasion of Father’s Day, Getty spoke with us about his work with Dads Are The Original Hipsters. Now a father himself, his admiration of fathers has only grown. As always, he spends an hour inspecting each photographic submission, looking for details that no rational human being would ever consider.
Though Dads Are The Original Hipsters is a quintessential internet phenomenon, tailor-made for memefication, Getty says that this Tumblr page was born out of a very human moment. As a young, post-university man, Getty lived in San Francisco’s Mission District, an area now lost to tech bros. He characterizes himself as the stereotypical “bulls**t hipster,” riding fixed gear bikes, living with eight others in a house, and drinking lots of cheap beer. One November, Getty grew out a mustache for charity and made the fateful decision to keep it for his trip home for Christmas.
When Getty arrived in the airport terminal, he was greeted by his father, who was also wearing a mustache. Getty looked at his father with some bemusement. Though his father had worn a big mustache for a brief period during his childhood, for most of Getty’s life his father had been clean shaven.
“I’m like, what the hell… what is going on?” Getty recalls. “He gives me a big hug and says, ‘I just want to let you know that whatever you do I’ve already done and I can still do it better. And he sort of just leveled my ego.”
“[Afterward], I thought back on that whole trip and I stole his vintage road bike and I was trying to ride that,” he adds. “I stole his old expensive high-end film camera and was shooting film up and down the Pacific coast. I realized our v-necks were getting mixed up in the wash because he wore the iconic dad white v-neck. It all started to hit me… it’s like that moment in a movie where the main character’s head starts to spin, they get nauseous, and they realize, ‘Holy fuck, my dad was way cooler than me.’”
In his youth, Getty saw his dad as a strong and silent type—a pretty typical dad in various parts of the world. But bit by bit stories came out about his father’s youth, and it dawned on Getty that his dad was a bit of a wild man. After going back through some of his parents’ old photos, Getty started to see parallels developing between his dad’s and his own youths.
“This was kind of at the time when the whole hipster bashing thing was happening, so the blog was kind of born out of this,” Getty explains. “It was my sort of making fun of my friends and myself and what we were all doing through the lens of the past, and sort of trying to explode hipsterdom through the idea of it. Hipsters think that they’re the most original thing that’s ever happened when in all actuality they’re just copying the past, therefore proving the irrelevance of what they’re trying to achieve.”
For Getty, the blog was just a fun topic that he found he could easily lean into creatively. At the time, Getty was working in advertising, writing for brands—a task that he no longer found interesting. Thus, Dads Are The Original Hipsters became Getty’s creative outlet.
Getty enjoyed going through his father’s old photos, and pulling out the most hilarious ones. And being a writer, Getty was immediately drawn to finding a narrative embedded in the image. He began scouring the internet for vintage images, hoping that there would be archives of such photos, but soon concluded that this was not the case.
After posting a few of these images on Dads Are The Original Hipsters, along with often humorously crafted text to fill out the narrative, others began submitting their own images of their fathers to showcase on the site. And very quickly Getty realized that he was creating his own archive of these vintage photos of fathers from around the world.
“I became a bit of a personal archivist,” Getty notes. “As I was pulling them together, I put my own in, and I was just trying to bring everything into existence… It’s not about one person, but about the collective experience so that everyone feels part of the story.”
“It began this journey of putting the spin on every single one of the photos,” says Getty. “It was just a great jumping off point where you could look into the moment and you could kind of better understand where it was coming from, and how it connected to today.”
At first, Getty didn’t tell anyone. But one day he walked into work he saw that he had 1.5 million page views. Getty’s life suddenly changed. An editor from the San Francisco publisher Chronicle Books emailed Getty about possibly turning Dads Are The Original Hipsters into a book. In a stroke of serendipity, the advertising office where Getty worked was located right across the street from Chronicle, so he suggested they meet right then and there. The rest is history.
“It was like this surreal world of everything kind of coming together,” Getty says. “And it was born out of my dad picking me up and checking my ego in the most monumental way possible.”
“This experience of uncovering these stories from the past has brought not only my family but other families together in trying to understand each other on a parallel,” he adds. “Suddenly it’s not, ‘I’m telling you what to do,’ it’s, ‘Listen, I’ve lived this shit—don’t make the mistake I made because I was young and dumb too and I know about young and dumb. One of the most beneficial things to come out of this book and second one is the family stories that have come out, and we’re all closer because of it.”
While many of the images on Dads Are The Original Hipsters are humorous, absurd, raunchy, and various other things besides, Getty’s photo editing work also reveals another major aspect of the men: they were fully formed human beings that fathers were before having children. As children, we often look at our parents as caricatures. Sure, they provide for us and teach us certain values, whether its ethics or the benefit of hard work and persistence, but we tend not to think of their rich lives before we came along.
Of course, Getty relishes the opportunity to rail against hipsters. But for each image, he wants to reveal these “deeper subplots,” so that we can all appreciate the complexity of parents. “You get to look at your father in a more three-dimensional way instead of as the authoritarian,” says Getty.
Three months ago, Getty’s wife gave birth to a daughter. As soon as she got pregnant, he sold his motorcycle—a significant event, given that his wife had only known him to ride one, as he had never owned a car.
“My daughter is going to grow up and she’s going to think I’m all super lame because all I love driving now are station wagons,” Getty says, laughing. “I actually have a framed photo outside of her room of me putting the bike sideways up in northern California, leaning over a crazy corner, so she always knows I wasn’t always who I am now.”
Let’s face it – Dad’s already got all the toolkits, watches and grooming sets he could ever need. So this Father’s Day, it’s time to think outside the box. With a Polaroid camera, he can make awesome analog photos of all the special moments in life. Check out of our gift guide ➜ here.
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