18 Photos of Everyday Americans That Prove Some Things Never Change
It can be easy to bemoan the fast pace and constant bustle of today's society, or lament how things just "aren't like they used to be." But these compelling photos prove that many of the fundamentals of how we live our lives remain unchanged as decades go by.
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Nothing Has Changed
There’s a certain magic to vintage photography. It often portrays simplicity and beauty in places you might not think you’d find it. Not to mention, it’s also often blissfully devoid of forced poses or re-touching. One photographer, Larry Niehues, took on the challenge of recreating that magic—with images of today’s world. His book of photography, Nothing Has Changed, shows that beautifully photographable scenes and moments don’t have to be 50-plus years old to capture the magic of everyday life. This photo, in addition to the following 17, look like something out of a history book or generations-old photo album—but they were all taken during the 2010s. (This one was taken in Nashville, Tennessee in 2015!) If you’d like a little more mystery with your Americana photography, see if you can guess in which decade each of these photos was taken.
Small motels, especially ones like these that use this colorful, “Googie”-style architecture, seem frozen in time. This style rose to prominence in the 1950s and came to be synonymous with understated hospitality. The retro style of this Mesa, Arizona motel, paired with the bike the subject is riding, free of bells and whistles, makes it easy to believe that this photo was taken long before 2016. This motel has the Googie architecture covered; we wonder if they have any of these other old-fashioned things that have vanished from hotels.
Stop and Eat Here
This charming little eatery in Knightstown, Indiana, is brimming with retro Americana—even though this image was captured in 2015. Everything from the pattern on the chair to the right, to the 1990s-style ceiling fan, to the mini American flags on the counter provides a refreshing portrait of a place not compelled to constantly modernize.
Nothing about this photo makes it at all obvious that it was taken in 2014. The modest Sun Valley, California home, vintage Chrysler, and bright pastel coloring seem right out of the mid-20th century. Even the red SOLO cup, which may seem like a “modern” product, dates all the way back to 1976. For some more vintage vehicles, check out what these popular car brands looked like 50 years ago!
Located in Ely, Nevada, this nearly-empty train station is a far cry from the rushed, packed, metallic hubs of today. And the multi-colored train cars, with their stately rows of windows, look like something out of a children’s toy set rather than something you’d actually see on a track—certainly one in 2015. To be fair, you can see the words “Visitor Center” in the sign in the background, so this may be a museum rather than a functioning train station. But it’s still a fascinating glimpse at what this romanticized, classic American form of travel used to look like.
One thing that’s a constant of American life? We love our leisure time, and we love vacationing on beautiful beaches. This particular beautiful beach is in Honolulu, Hawaii. And though the photo was taken in 2017, the woman’s swimsuit of choice would be right at home in this collection of vintage swimsuits we wish would come back in style.
Reading the News
Nothing beats a good morning coffee and breakfast—another thing that’s as true now as it was 50 years ago. Yet plenty of elements of this 2016 photo—from the physical newspaper to the cash on the table—are few and far between in today’s era of online news blasts, credit cards, and Venmo. And that makes this photo, taken in Lubbock, Texas, that much more of a treasure. Here are some more everyday items that will probably be extinct by the time Generation Z has grown up.
We could imagine this guy striding out of this Hollbrook, Arizona restaurant and into an Old-Hollywood Western film. The no-smoking sign adds a hint of modernity, but it’s offset by the vintage Coca-Cola ad and the map on the wall in a world where we rarely use physical maps. They give this photo a retro feel—despite its actual 2016 origin.
Few activities can make you more nostalgic for an American childhood or teenagerdom than bowling. And instantly looking at the photo of this minimalist bowling alley, not packed with people, free of flashing lights and neon pins, will probably make you feel nostalgic for a time past. But the “time past” depicted in this photo is actually…2016! What’s more, this bowling alley is actually not tucked away in some tiny American town. It’s in a major city—St. Louis, Missouri! While we’re on the subject of old-timey, Americana sports, get a look at these vintage baseball photos.
This image comes out of Ogden, a city in Utah slightly north of Salt Lake. Surrounded by low mountains, this impossible-to-miss advertiser tries to get passersby to consider a car loan. Way to the left of the image, you’ll see a few modern-day cars, but the backdrop—the modest burger stand and its delightfully Googie sign depicting larger-than-life food items—could totally fool you that this photo dates from long before 2015.
End of the Day
Enjoying the natural beauty and spacious skies that the country has to offer is one aspect of American life that has never changed—and (hopefully!) never will. This fisherman casts his line into a pristine Oklahoma lake at dusk one 2016 day. For more breathtaking images like this, check out these rare, vintage photos of America’s national parks.
It may seem completely unbelievable, but if there’s any photojournalistic integrity, this title is truthful—this photo was indeed taken in February. And February in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at that! These stalwart folks are out at this charming food stand during a Wisconsin winter. While the prices for hot dogs, sodas, and frozen custard seen here might not be quite as low as what you might see in vintage photos, they’re not half bad for a tasty treat in 2018! Find out how much your favorite fast-food items used to cost.
One thing that definitely never changes through the years? The instant joy when kids see a dog and get permission to pet it. That joy is palpable outside this Portland, Oregon coffee shop as these youngsters in school uniforms—another concept we might generally consider “old-fashioned,” despite the contradictory evidence provided by this 2016 photo—make a new canine friend. Get a look at what some of your favorite dog breeds looked like 100 years ago.
Move over, heartfelt Budweiser ads! This touching photo of a genuine companionship between a man, his horse, and his dog—in black and white, despite its 2014 origin, to add some retro flair—is the real deal. The trio roams around undeveloped land outside Chimayo, New Mexico.
Another American staple? Burgers. This diner, his button-down shirt, and the candy-stripe walls behind him look like they could be out of a Jack Kerouac road novel. And yet this photo, snapped at a Downey, California eatery, captures a scene from 2015. Burgers and other classic fast foods may not be disappearing, but they are evolving—just look at these ways fast food will change in 2020.
Here’s another photo whose black-and-white coloring—as well as its stark, timeless subject matter—belies its 2014 origin. This snowy scene comes from Portland, Oregon, but brutal winters are a struggle that Americans throughout the country understand—and have understood for generations. Check out these chilly photos of what winter used to be like in the past.
Here’s a quintessential American-dream photo if there ever was one. This photo of a woman strolling through—where else?—New York, New York, with a snazzy coat and a pair of suitcases, could be from any era of urban American history. The modern cars past the divider give away its time of origin as the 21st century—2018, to be exact—but the “Antique” car that she’s walking past evokes a bygone era in the City That Never Sleeps.
Another source of classic Americana nostalgia? The old-timey arcade. But, despite the simplistic, screen-free design of this pinball machine, it’s actually not so old-timey—this photo is from 2016! And it proves that you’re never too old to enjoy a fun, classic game as its young-at-heart subject plays on this St. Louis, Missouri pinball machine. Still feeling nostalgic? Check out these rare, vintage photos of what life was like in the 1950s.