Walter Manning is the man behind one of my favourite tumblrs, Old Chum. He has gained a massive following online and now he has opened a shop here in Vancouver, Old Faithful. It is a total blessing to our city. I met up with him a couple weeks ago to ask him a few questions.
AN INTERVIEW WITH WALTER MANNING
Jeff Hamada: I thought we could start off by letting everyone know about your amazing little tumblr, Old Chum. What’s the story behind the “Chumblr” and how did you come up with the name?
Walter Manning: I was walking around the new Convention Center in Vancouver and they just put up all these placards about the history of British Columbia. I remember just reading every one of them as I walked around and how impressed I was with the raw initiative that went in to the development of the province: conquering the landscape, building infrastructure, hiking supplies to logging camps and felling giant firs. These were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
I came across one placard of a picture of some men hiking supplies through the rugged landscape. One of the men had a crate on his back and on the side was inscribed “Old Chum”, a Canadian tobacco company, and it all fell into place for me and Old Chum was born. The name summed up what I wanted a blog to be.
WM: Old Chum started out as a place for me to gather images to inspire me while I was getting my shit together to open a store here in Vancouver. I got pretty into scanning images and although I feel somewhat nerdy about it, it’s really nice to look through the archives online rather than my stacks of books at home. Old Chum has always just been about images that make me feel good with a tinge of Canadiana of course: I love Canada. Hopefully Old Chum makes you smile.
JH: It really does! I feel like I spend more time looking at the images on Old Chum than other Tumblrs because it’s apparent how much time was spent gathering (and digitizing). I guess it’s just easier for me to appreciate something when I can tell how much work is going into it. Have you found any other Tumblrs out there with mostly hand-scanned images?
WM: Yeah, I’ve seen a few others that scan images. I tend to follow those blogs more than ones that just simply re-blog things. I’ve always been a bookstore junky and I’ve always gravitated to the images in old books – the settings, the subjects, the colours, old film grain and old printing processes. You just can’t find many of those images online. It’s fun to share those finds with others who may appreciate the same things I do.
JH: Selecting the sets of images for Booooooom, and even deciding the order that they will appear, is weirdly satisfying for me. Is it the same for you working on Old Chum?
WM: It’s usually pretty fun. Like I said before: I’m a bookstore junky. I love digging through stacks of unorganized books, going through the spines and coming out with something almost lost forever. Before I had a shop I was working at a job I disliked and when I had days off I could head to the book stores and flea markets and discover those images and books that inspired me to think about other things. I’d scan a wack of images in one sitting and have a stockpile to share. Unfortunately now I’m stretched pretty thin, but I’m still trying to dedicate some time to scanning treasures. I haven’t stopped collecting the books. In fact, I just found five new books that blew me away.
JH: What is your favourite find from a thrift store or old book store, so far?
WM: Either Richard Harrington’s “Life as it Was” or Edward Curtis’s “Portraits from North American Indian Life”. Both are amazing.
JH: You have quite a large following now, do you feel any pressure to keep your followers happy? Or would Old Chum look the same even if nobody read it?
WM: I think it’s nice to know that Old Chum has struck a chord with people. I do feel pressure to keep posting regularly, but it’s just not as realistic for me now. Often times I’m finding things that already exist on the internet and I’ll post that. I’m still posting pictures of things that inspire me or interest me and maybe people like that now, but that could change. I mean, I’ll change too. We’re always in a state of becoming. However, I’m not posting for people really. I remember once where I found this website on Appalachian lore and the photos were unbelievable – I wanted to post every photo. So I pretty much did. I guess I was clogging the shit out of people’s dashboards and they stopped following me and I thought “good, if you don’t like this: I don’t like you.”
JH: It is weird to think about how the things we introduce to the internet everyday will live on after we die, I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. I remember when my uncle died I thought about changing my Facebook status to something in remembrance of him but then I decided it cheapened it in a way, so I didn’t. Do you think there are some images that are too beautiful to be scanned, or some things that are too sacred to be digitized? Like something is taken away from it by being documented on the internet?
WM: The only things I don’t want to scan are books that I feel the binding is to precious to be compromised – I like my books in good condition and mashing them on a scanner bed isn’t really healthy for that. Otherwise I think it’s interesting to have things exist in the internet nether world. For instance, recently I signed into my flickr account, but I must have had a subconscious slip because I used an old username/password and all these old photos came up that I haven’t seen for years. I thought that was super interesting. Here are these images that are somehow archived in this non-physical world. How many stories have you heard about people’s basements flooding and they lost all their old photographs? As long as the grid is up and running I’ll be able to tap into the images I’ve photographed myself or scanned from a book. I can’t really see the internet going away or becoming something else. The technologies might change, but until Alzheimer’s finally kicks in I’ll know my flickr password.
JH: The other day we spoke a little bit about the amazing films that the National Film Board of Canada has produced over the years, is there one in particular that resonates with you?
WM: There are so many good ones! Any of the Bill Mason films are a must watch, but Cesar’s Bark Canoe is definitely my favourite. There is no dialogue or explanations in the film at all, no subtitles, just a constant observation of a 67-year-old Attikamek man named Cesar Newashish constructing a canoe using only birchbark, cedar splints, spruce roots and gum. It’s by far one of the most captivating films I’ve ever watched. Nothing is rushed and it really show’s how much time and craft goes into the art of building a canoe.
JH: What sorts of things did you collect when you were growing up?
WM: I’ve had plenty of stupid collections: Garbage Pail Kid Cards, Roald Dahl Books, broken skateboard decks, grasshoppers. They’re all gone now except the Roald Dahl Books; I can’t get rid of books.
JH: What can people expect to find when they come and visit your shop, Old Faithful?
WM: When you come into Old Faithful Shop you’ll find a considered selection of quality goods for everyday living. Our store is housed in a 100 year old building and we tried to stay as true to that as possible and interpret the character of the space as it might of appeared when it was first built.
WM: We like to imagine our store as in existence in Gastown over a 100 years ago after the completion of the railway. Old Faithful Shop is a store for the senses. Our products are meant to be touched and examined, great music is always playing and the place smells amazing (a combination of balsam fir incense and a selection of rare perfumes.) The total experience is important to us and just like my blog Old Chum, we just want people to feel good at Old Faithful Shop.
JH: I guess Old Faithful wasn’t based solely on Old Chum but when I walk around in it I feel kinda like I’m walking around inside of your blog! Maybe this will be a new trend? Blogs becoming physical spaces? If I ever open a Booooooom space will you help me design it?
WM: It makes sense. I really can’t seperate myself from Old Chum entirely. Those images are of people/things that inspire and motivate me. I’ve curated a selection of images for a blog that play on each other and tell a story. Now I’m doing that with products and a physical space. Old Chum and Old Faithful Shop are definitely complimentary. I would LOVE to see a Booooooom space! It would be a damn honour to help design it.
From URL to IRL. That’s the future.