Saturday, May 9, 2015

Flawed - Sepia Saturday

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.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

18 comments:

  1. Oh, too bad your mother scratched herself out -- it's such a great photo! Love the crossed legs and the strappy shoes!

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    1. I know, Deb. I agree. I do wonder if she was making some kind of face or if she didn't like her appearance that day for some other reason. I don't know if I ever asked her about it but she probably wouldn't have said much, either.

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  2. What wonderful mementos! It's a good thing those photos were saved!

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    1. I agree, Brenna. Even though they're not in the best of shape, they're better than none.

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  3. What a big class! Perhaps among the descendants of all those children there is someone else who has that photo, so if you could find them you could get an undamaged copy. I have a couple of my own class photos that I've never liked myself in, but I couldn't do that to them :-)

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    1. I think that was probably two or three classes combined for one photo, Jo. I have other of Mom's class photos and there are several teachers standing at the back so I assume the photos is of combined classrooms.

      There's a Facebook page for Mineral Ridge and it's possible that someone else will post the photo another time. I could probably send people to this post and ask if anyone else has it. I would be great to actually see my mom's face.

      I would probably not scratch my face out of a photo, I would get rid of the whole photo! Horrible of me, huh?

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  4. Are you sure the scratched off face doesn't belong to the teacher? The crossed leg looks too large for a young girl's leg & her clothes seem more adult, plus a teacher doesn't appear anywhere else in the picture & the teachers usually posed with their students in those class pictures. If it IS the teacher, perhaps your mom wasn't overly fond of her?

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    1. No, I'm sure that's not the teacher's face that was scratched out. My mom was tall and mature for her age. I have a photo of her at the age of 12 and she looks at least 14 or 15. It is strange that they didn't include the teachers in this photo. In other of my mom's class photos the teachers were standing at the back -- sort of overlooking the boys, perhaps to keep order.

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  5. "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."
    This speaks directly to the issue that Sepians have been addressing on the Sepia Saturday Facebook page. When contemplating whether to keep photos or throw them away, we have to take into account the fact that we don't know what we don't know. In other words, it's pretty much impossible to predict what someone else might be able to deduce about or recognise in a photo. Thanks for giving us an insight into the background to your own flawed photo set.

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    1. Brett, if I had only one of a photo from my digital camera without hope of a second better image of the same view (family, individual, etc.) I would probably keep it. I think our ancestors did the same: it's the only photo I have of Muggs and maybe I'll never get another one.

      I have seen plenty of other photos in my Mom's albums that have been less than stellar -- out of focus, people I don't know, etc. -- and I've chosen not to save them individually but as a group as placed on her photo album page.

      I agree, though, that someone might find some information in a photo that we miss or be able to identify someone that we can't.

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  6. My husband and I often laugh about the disappointment we felt as a young married couple when we paid money to develop pictures that ended up being poorly exposed etc. Thank goodness we have better methods today. But true to your experience, we still find value and worth in some of those photos. Thanks for sharing with us your photos and your insight.

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    1. Oh, Michelle, I can't begin to count the times that a precious roll of photos came back with only one or two good shots. It was so disappointing. Even now, when I scan some of the best of those photos I can see how awful they were. Yes, our modern photography techniques are a great blessing.

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  7. My grandmother scratched out the faces in many of our family photos. She started doing it when dementia set in and none of us were aware of what she was doing. She scratched out people she didn't like or imagined had hurt her in some way. Our photo box has many damaged pictures not just from Grandma's heavy edits but also the ravages of moths, water and sunlight....I can't throw any of them away. I enjoyed your post very much.

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    1. How sad about your grandmother's scratching out -- and about her dementia, too -- Helen. Did she always scratch out the same people? If not, maybe you would have at least one good photo of most people scattered among all the photos?

      I don't think I could throw any away, either, even with damage from moths, water, or sunlight. In a perfect world we wouldn't have those problems, huh?

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  8. I'm not sure our relatives "saved" old photos for any particular purpose or even considered whether a picture wasn't good enough to keep. They were probably the first to conclude "it is what it is" and so those photos went into a box or a drawer. Like you, I'm glad for the pictures no matter the condition. (I'd like to take a pin to some of my old school pictures.)

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    1. Now see, Wendy, I think that pin idea is about the worst because even a bad photo is better than no photo. But, of course, I can understand the desire. Me? I just ditch the whole photo (without anyone else knowing, of course).

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  9. I think you have best expressed the Sepian philosophical question on vintage photographs this weekend. I think we treasure these small cracked and foggy images, whether they are family heirlooms or collected off eBay, because of how they contain the mysterious quality of time. They remind us of memory or history that we feel should be preserved. They remind us of what is most valuable: friends, family, loved ones.

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I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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