Except for the occasional vacation, I spent the entirety of the 90s living in Worthington, Ohio, about ten miles north of Columbus. My family moved there from Pittsburgh in 1989 when my dad got a job at Ohio State University. For me, that’s when the 90s began.
I always loved photography. My parents had a Canon AE1 that they let me use occasionally, but they got me my own point-and-shoot for Christmas when I was about ten. I shot tirelessly and my parents were kind enough to mail all the roles of film to Clark. I remember the excitement I felt when I heard the heavy packages of double prints hit the floor below the mail slot. In high school I signed up for my first darkroom photography class and got a Canon AE1 of my own, which I used until the early 2000s
I still have photo albums and boxes full of prints from this period, along with some other memorabilia. I love going through my old stuff and showing it to my friends, but now that we’re entering the era of 90s nostalgia, I’m realizing it may be of interest to a larger audience.
A few months ago I posted a photo to my Instagram account for Throwback Thursday. It’s a black and white shot of a couple friends of mine in huge pants sitting on a front stoop around 1998. I thought it might get some likes from my friends who know the guys in the picture and some other people my age who stumbled upon it, which is what happened, initially. Then a friend alerted me that my photo had been featured in a Buzzfeed piece about JNCOs, which are apparently making a comeback or something.
People seem to be hungry for this stuff. And while I don’t plan to start wearing 40″ cuffs again, I am, too. It’s something more than just childhood nostalgia. I get a kick out of seeing 80s toys, but I have a particular fondness for the 90s, especially the Clinton years. This was the time before the Bush presidency, before 911, before abstinence-only sex ed.
It was the dawn of reality television, when that was a risky idea and the stars were less glamorous. Say what you will about it, but I saw two men (Pedro Zamora and his boyfriend) kiss for the first time during Season 2. I remember being a little shocked and then wondering why I felt that way. This was new and it changed our culture. My generation votes differently because we grew up with this.
This was the age of riot grrrl culture. Thousands of miles from the West Coast, I was buying Bikini Kill CDs at the Ohio State campus record shops and putting their songs on mix tapes for all my girl friends. I never got to see them live, but I did get to see Kathleen Hanna‘s new band, Le Tigre, at the Wexner Center for the Arts on their first tour in 2000.
That, of course, came shortly after Y2K, my first memory of mass hysteria.
That same year I voted for Ralph Nader in my first presidential election. In my defense, Ohio was not a swing state that year–Gore didn’t have a chance. But that idealism, crushed less than a year later, is what marks the close of the decade for me.
Now, in my thirties, I live in Kathleen Hanna’s hometown of Portland. I’m seeing her speak about riot grrrl in a couple months with one of my high school friends for whom I used to put Bikini Kill on mix tapes. Carrie Brownstein’s TV show pokes fun at the city’s 90s idealism and slackerdom and her band just released their first album in a decade. I don’t think riot grrrl ever fully died here, but it’s not the 90s. Portland is a bubble in some ways, but it was not left untouched by the recession or national politics. Just in the ten years I’ve lived here I’ve seen the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in the state in 2004, followed by the legalization of Domestic Partnership in 2007, and finally the legalization of same sex marriage in 2014! We’re better off now in some ways and worse off in others.
As much as I enjoyed adolescent life during the Clinton years and appreciate the ways in which he and his administration were progressive, I don’t really want to go back to that time. It was Clinton, after all, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law (though he would later support its repeal).
I do, however, think revisiting past decades can provide both profound insight and great entertainment, and so here I will share with you snippets from the 90s as I experienced them. Rather than attempting to put things in chronological order, I will post images and memories as I’m inspired to share them. Think of it as a sort of mix tape.