Another family portrait from my “AA” days… “Ansel Adams” days that is: 4×5 view camera, Tri-X film, and Zone System. Need I say more?
The technique and the rather tedious process underscored my feeling on the subject of photography and especially regarding the subject seated the chair, my son.
It was important to me at the time, and especially now, that I have family records to pass down.
It’s been interesting as friends have migrated from the North to Atlanta, and we have shared family and photos, that my Northern friends even from rural areas had many more family photographs and those of much higher quality than ours.
Maybe it was a cultural thing. I don’t know, but I have very, very few original photographs of my family on either side. My dad’s family lived in the country, and my mom’s lived in the city.
Perhaps cameras and photographs were considered a luxury. Maybe there were no drugstores conveniently located to process film. Maybe photography was just for wealthy city folks.
Whatever. It just seems family pix were not as important to the average Southerner, rural or urban, as they appear to have been to the average Northerner. Even my wife’s family, who were wealthy and lived in Wilmington, North Carolina did not have many family photographs.
Consider Roy Stryker and the Farm Securities Administration photo projects during the Depression of the 1930’s. The images his army of photographers captured, artists such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, created stereotypes about the South and Southwest that persist to the present day… up North.
I have a copy of a photograph of my grandmother, taken about 1912 I think, with three of my aunts by her side and one of my uncles, an infant, in her arms.
It was rural, farming Georgia, Union City south of Atlanta, but it was not the stereotypical “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, Coen brothers concept, or even the FSA Roy Stryker/Dorothea Lange, “Migrant Mother” idea of the rural South. My family all wore shoes even through the Depression! Both sides.
As the story goes, the old photograph was taken by an itinerate photographer. He came by the house. My grandfather, his brother, and my other uncle were in the fields. (My dad was born quite a few years later, the youngest son.)
The photographer asked my grandmother, who was actually quite a beauty and very photogenic, if he could photograph her family. She told him to wait a few minutes while she made the kids presentable.
The children stood on the front porch in a row, unsmiling, but curious at the attention they had received. My grandmother had the bare hint of a smile on her lips, and an amused look in her eyes. One of my aunts standing there died of some scourge just a few years later. Such were the times.
Such are times now. I feel an urgency about this work. Maybe you do, too. We go about it, cameras in hand, trying to grasp a moment and hold onto it. The photograph becomes a tangible memory and evidence that THIS was important.
So, I said all that to say, that in all this visual therapy we do among ourselves, for me, the family photographs which I seldom post, the “dreaded group shot” as my kids and in-laws call it, and the single portrait like this one of my son, age four at the time, endured by them as I fiddle with the camera, are the ones most important to me, the ones I can physically hold in wonder.
All the rest are faded glories.