Above stand my great-grandparents, Fred and Elvira Bartley Gerner. At their feet are three babies who may, or may not, be grandchildren. On the right stand several young woman looking toward the photographer. In the background on the left there appears to be a road and either a telephone or electric pole. In the right background are trees in what could be an orchard. The photo is unclear and grainy to begin with but to add to the distress there are some blotches on the left and several creases. (Thankfully, none of the imperfections hinder the grainy view of the people.) Had I taken this photo with a digital camera today I would probably delete it. If not deleted, I know it would never been printed. But I'm so grateful to have it this century or so after it was taken. The few things I learn are that Elvira had excellent posture and wore her white hair on top of her head; that Fred was bald and slim; and that they were about the same height. Now, if I only knew who the babies and ladies were....
At left is my cousin in a photo taken nearly 6 decades ago, probably snapped one Easter when my aunt took photos of all of us cousins. My cousin was a handsome boy. Again, the problems in the photo didn't affect us being able to see him. But what happened to the photo? Do we see the ravages of the decades or are those results of the developing and printing process?
Next, we have a photo of Muggs, so identified across the (cropped) top border of the snapshot in my mother's album. Is Muggs is a cat or a dog? Those blotches of light obliterate the face of the poor fellow. I doubt there's anyone alive who knows who Muggs is. I can't help but believe that he was a cherished pet, if not my mother's (because she didn't really seem to like cats and dogs much) but of someone in the family.
Photos like this make me wonder why we save them. Pets no one knows anything about, scenic views of unidentified places, acquaintances of the photographer that have gone unidentified. Maybe some of us are just savers. Maybe we intend to tell the stories. Maybe we think we'll look at the album again and fond memories will be called up by the photos. I don't know.
The last photo has a purposefully inflicted flaw. My mother is the little girl in the front row, fifth from the left. I can only guess that she didn't like the photo of herself and scratched her face off. Aside from a few lines horizontally across the photo and its light contrast, it's in fairly good shape. And all the students are identifiable (if only I knew their names).
The only reason I can give an approximate date to this 4th Grade class photo at Mineral Ridge School is because I know my mother's birth year was 1915. I think was taken around 1925.
I treasure all family photographs that come my way, whether in good shape or bad, whether digital or paper. But sometimes I do wonder about them and what prompted the owner to save them, especially the ones that are blurry beyond recognition or have imperfections that prevent seeing the subject of the photo. I recognize that paper and film were precious a century ago, even decades ago, and that the amateur photographer had no way of knowing how the photograph would turn out. The purchase was for developing and printing no matter the quality of the photo. Maybe those who saved them were frugal, or their mental image of the subject completed the imperfect photograph. For whatever reason, I'm grateful to have the photos with ancestors in them. Despite the flaws in the above photographs, I cherish those with my ancestors in them. (You can click any photograph to enlarge it for a better view.)
This is a post for Sepia Saturday 278. Click through to see other participants and you may learn to identify problems in old photographs and possibly how to improve them.
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