Saturday, April 27, 2013

Old Photos

I have always been fascinated by old photos. I am fortunate to have inherited family photos dating from the 1880‘s. I could stare at these images all day. I scrutinize their clothing, shoes, hairstyles, and faces. Some faces belong to the era they came from, while others could blend with today. I like to look at their expressions and try to imagine what kind of things they must have experienced. My grandfather was in San Francisco during the 1908 earthquake and subsequent fire. We have some incredible photos of the event. Collapsed buildings, men posing in front of rubble, and signs such as “Shave 5 Cents” are some of the images captured. As a child, I was a little confused about which major historical disaster my grandfather had lived through. I used to tell people he was on the Titanic. Whoopsy, wrong event! One thing I noticed when perusing the family photo collection - nobody smiled. Perhaps it’s because you had to keep perfectly still while the film was percolating inside the camera. Another theory is that people might have had funky, rotten teeth back then, before the dawn of toothpaste. Even though life was harsher, I doubt hard times were the reason everyone looked so serious. Certainly people actually smiled once in a while. I did find some photos of my grandfather’s brother and sister-in-law smiling. They smiled in pretty much every photo they were in. It made me wish I’d known them. Too bad my history teachers in school didn’t teach their subject with more human interest. It would have been more compelling, and I certainly would have gotten better grades. Learning history should be more than drudgery and memorizing dates. Battle of Hastings, 1066... I still haven’t found a use for that nugget. I can’t tell you who the two warring factions were, why they were fighting, or why I should care. But show me an image of what they were wearing as they fought, and I might have been a bit more eager to learn about it. Some people find old photos creepy. I don’t quite know why. The unsmiling visages seem like they are looking right at you. They know stuff, but they aren’t telling. And I will continue to guess...

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