Picture Stories: Newspaper photos
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    Photos and the stories they do (or not) tell –

    As you know, I love old photos. I like to imagine the stories behind each one of them. Who were these people and what were their lives like?

    I don’t go out of my way to buy vintage photos; most are tucked in the bottom of box lots. When I get them home, though, I’m always happy to see them, to comb through them just to find out what’s there.

    Since I’ll never know who these people were – or their true stories – I decided to re-create that brief instant in time when the photo was taken based on what I see and feel. I’ve pulled together a group of interesting ones to share and to imagine.

    A quick nap

    It’s been a long day for Larry, helping out in the store that his father owns. He sneaks in some shut-eye, but gets caught in the act. This must be a family store because only a father – or a mother – would take this photo (not a non-relative boss. That person would be shooing him awake.). The photo is likely from the 1940s, based on the Startling Comics and Shadow comic books tucked behind a curtain in a window in the full photo. Another sign in the window appears to say “Jesus Loves You (?).”

    Larry is wedged between the counter with its glass case and an outside wall, likely at the back of the store. Can you imagine him doing this at the front with customers about? He is dressed in a shirt, sweater and tie, sitting on a crate in a store that likely catered to a black clientele. Maybe it is a supply store, based on a GE Mazda Lamps sign on the wall advertising lightbulbs in the full photo.

    Trying to get it right

    The family got a new camera, one of those new Kodak Brownies  or folding cameras that make it easier for people to take pictures at home. A daughter wants to capture them in their yard for posterity, and they dress up for the occasion.

    First the couple stands apart, stoic, not touching, her clutching her purse rather than him. No intimate hand-holding in public back then (was this also the 1940s?). On second thought, he – likely at the daughter’s suggestion – haphazardly throws an arm around her. Then, the daughter gets into the picture, her arms casually embracing her parents’ shoulders.

    I can imagine the relief in both of their faces when this ordeal was over.

    Where we live

    A small rural stopover town anywhere in America where the freight train blows through. A family is proud of their new home with its plot of land and want to show it off to the relatives back home.

    “We live in a valley, at the foot of the mountains, and the view is beautiful,” they write. “Can’t wait for you to come for a visit. We have a white porch off the back. By the way, I can wave at my neighbor Susan through the side window and Beth out the back window. We’re that close.”

    So, here it is at the left. Nice, huh?

    A dapper dude or not?

    Are both of these photos of Willie? I can’t tell but they sure do look alike. In the first, he’s partially hidden behind this lovely old car, maybe from the 1940s. He has on an apron, so he’s likely at work. He stops to pose near the car.

    In the second, the man is in full figure. The sun is brilliant (you can tell by the washed-out look of the photo) and there are two Cokes (cold, I hope) on a ledge to his left. He has a left pegleg, likely lost in a war. He’s dressed for Sunday church or sauntering on a street in his hometown.

    There’s an “Aristocrat” sign with a female figure in a window to his left. Wonder what that was about? This man looks so good that someone wanted to capture him for forever.

    Feeding the chickens

    Dinner has to eat, too. So, first little Susie feeds the chicken in the yard. Sometime later, she joins her grandfather and the women of the family (including Mrs. Sherwood, whose name is written in ink on the back of the photo) in their barren yard to feed them some more. The wash has been done and clothes are on the line, flapping in the wind.

    This is a lazy, not-much-to-do kind of day, and feeding the chickens and fraternizing seems like a good idea. What’s to do next?

    Taking a walk down the promenade

    A young woman named Andrea strolls along a downtown street in a city someplace in the United States. She looks like a college student or just a stylish young woman. This is likely a street of black businesses – the card appears to be from the 1930s-1940s.

    This is actually a real photo postcard (RPPC). According to the website Ancestorville, these postcards were popular during the first three decades of the 20th century. Families would take photos, and have the negatives sent to a photography house to be made into postcards, which they’d send to relatives. In some instances, post-card photographers were hired by publishers to take pictures that were made into postcards for sale commercially. 

    As I looked at theses photos, I kept wondering: Who were taking these pictures? And did everyone just happen to have a Kodak with them?

    Here’s the full photo of Larry asleep:

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