Anonymous Photographs

A few years ago, through a weird coincidence, I ended up owning all the personal photographs of my hometown’s most recent “crazy lady.” Maybe these women aren’t as visible as they were when I was a child, but it used to be common for small towns to have at least one woman who lived alone and acted however she felt, regardless of the social norm.

When I was growing up, that woman was M.T., for a lot of reasons. For one, she wore a full-length fake fur coat and a knee-length strand of pearls everywhere she went long after she was the age that could pull that off. And she wore it year round. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to wait for me to get brave enough to blog about or write about in an essay.

Lucille Morris 1935

I bought M.T.’s personal photos at an auction of her materials after she died. Eventually I’m going to get my hands on her manuscripts, too, but that’s another story.

I’ve owned these photographs for a very long time. I bought them in my hometown,  but I lugged them along from Arkansas to Colorado and back again, then all over the state until I finally settled in Little Rock. Recently, I pulled them out of storage and started looking through them.

I was looking, at first, for pictures of M.T.; I want to write an essay about her based on photographs from different stages of her life. But those rare pictures of her are mixed in dozens of photographs from different time periods of people I don’t know.

Most of them aren’t marked. Some of them are probably M.T.’s family. Some of them belong to the family she lived with for many years at the end of her life, whose name I think was Eudy. Possibly Otto Eudy. That’s all I can seem to gather from the materials I have at hand.

I started looking at some of the photographs in this box and realized I have a real treasure here. I may not know any of these people, but their snapshots, especially those from the 1920’s and 1930’s, are amazing. For example, the picture above is one of the few photographs I have that has a name on it: Lucille Morris, 1935.

Anonymous Couple circa 1920-1930

The scan doesn’t show it well, but the black in the ink of this photograph has a beautiful shiny luster to it that makes Ms. Morris seem even more striking than she already does.

The thing that really surprises me about many of those photographs is that they show so much detail, even in black and white. I feel like I can see every line in Ms. Morris’s face here.

This second photograph of an anonymous couple which I’m placing, based on their clothes, circa 1920’s or 1930’s, also shows some great detail. Both of the faces are obscured or faded here, but the clothing is sharp and crisp. The detail on the clothing makes the photo seem very iconic to me — as if this is a photo of the quintessential “flapper” and her man.

The next photo that struck me was this shot of an infant in his or her crib, shown to the right here. There’s something almost artful about the way the child is placed right at a sharp divide between shadow and light, but still the baby is very clearly lit in the picture. The child’s face is crisp and clear here, and its expression is clearly contented. The detail in the bassinet creates an interesting movement between the child’s smooth forehead and that blast of sunlight in the back ground.

Finally, I have a much smaller snapshot of two girls outside what I think is maybe a school or some kind of public function. It’s a snapshot that has an almost posed air about it. As if the photographer was trying to get the two girlsAnonymous two young girls circa 1920\'s to “act casual. ”

I like the detail of the clothing here too. I’m amazed at how ornate some of physical materials are in many of these photos. The gather of the skirts in this picture, alone, is pretty amazing. Look at the careful gathers of fabric in the baby’s bassinet; or at the creases in the “lover boy’s” pants in the second photo. It’s a part of the past that I personally rarely get to see.

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