Saturday, January 22, 2011

sepia saturday: another mystery

Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.
Francis Bacon (22 january 1561- 1626) philosopher

I saw today's sepia saturday photo hanging in the living room of a friend last week - I know nothing about the people in this photo but am sharing it none-the-less because I simply adore the way this family portrait is staged. the portrait seems to contain many clues to the family but I have no information about the family to make any sense of the clues. for instance, what are the books in the center of the photo suppose to indicate? what papers or documents are the mother and father figures holding? do they have some familial significance? are the young people siblings? do they share the same birth parents or are they related through remarriage?

my friend john says he is pretty certain that this a portrait of his step-father's family who have the last name of lowe. other than that john doesn't know anything else about the photograph even though it has hung in his family home for as long as he can remember.

john's birth father died when he was very young and his mother remarried when he was five; both john and his older brother were adopted by his stepfather and were given his surname - lowe. john thinks that the little boy on the left is his stepfather's father. we were speculating about how old we thought the photograph was - john's stepfather, unfortunately is deceased and thus can't answer any of our questions. john said his stepfather was born sometime around 1925. to me the little boy looks to be around 8. I don't know if I'm doing my math correctly but based on the this information I would guess that the photo was taken in the 1890s.

by the way, not that it matters to anyone outside of my family, but last week I misidentified one of the photographs I posted. I identified the second photo as being my grandfather's parents. well, my mom set me straight; it turns out that the photo is actually of my grandmother's parents. but, I was correct on one thing, we did refer to them as baba and zedo; however, they were not baba and zedo kravitz, rather they were baba (julia) and zedo (josef) kostelnik. like baba and zedo kravitz, these great grandparents also came to the united states from the austro-hungarian empire. the photo posted last week was taken in bethlehem, pennsylvania and not harwood. had I really looked closely at the man in the photography I should have known this was josef not george - after all, it was only a year ago I posted a photo of josef and correctly identified him!

to visit other time travelers, visit the sepia saturday blog.

dar williams song another mystery accompanied by a mysterious vid of a roadtrip through parts of quebec


37paddington said...

wonderful photograph! i agree that it is intriguingly staged and full of stories. thank you. hope you have a lovely weekend!

Kristin said...

Reminds me of those old paintings where people were holding things that stood for something. wonder what their story is.

Cad said...

I so agree with the age thing!

21 Wits said...

I really like this video, and Dar Williams is a special delight! Great mystery to unfold in your photo too. Isn't it funny about the very background in those old know it's a painted scene.....did they have rooms with those that you could just pick and choose...what you wanted to sit in front of...did they have them on screens and they'd wheel them in and out....I'd love to actually see inside a genuine real old photo studio!

Tattered and Lost said...

What I really find so fascinating about this photo is how the young man in the center is framed by the rest of the family. He is the focal point, intentional or not. I can’t tell for certainty from his collar, but he looks as if he was possibly a priest? The Bible in front of him on the table? Even the mother seems to be positioning herself with a slight lean of the head in order to give him prominence. Then again, it might just be a family shot with a stack of books. Interesting that only three of the people made eye contact with the camera.

As to the old backdrop, there is a fellow named Jim Linderman who has written a book about the artists that painted these backdrops. The book is called "The Painted Backdrop" and is available here ( at Blurb.

Watson said...

Interesting comments and observations led me back to the picture a number of times to see new things. The prominence of the Bible made me think of those family bibles that held the genealogies and family history.

Nana Jo said...

What strikes me is that everyone in the photograph wears a glimmer of humour under their more austere expressions. There is also real connection of love and feeling between them.

Betty Carlson said...

How many unidentified, or vaguely identified, photos are lying around homes now?

I had promised myself...and my go through photos with her last summer, but somehow we never got around to it.

Lovely post.

Christine H. said...

That little boy is adorable, and the staging of the photo is also very interesting.
Did you shoot the video? I felt like I was taking a quick little trip to Quebec. It was very pleasant, and I loved the music. I'll be humming that for the rest of the day.

Alan Burnett said...

Oh I agree, it is a fabulous photograph. It seems to have everything : its a conglomerate of poses, props and even expressions. If it was my photograph it would be hanging on the wall as well.

Lisa Ursu said...

that photo is intriguing, right down to the backdrop. I love the diagonal ribbon detail on the lady's dress, and the briefcase(?) under the books. what's in there? The little boy is gorgeous.
Stunning photo, thanks for sharing this.

Bruno Laliberté said...

it may be a mystery, but what an elegant one. they look so dashing!!

Gianni said...

Kimy, aka: mouse. I read through the Sepia Saturday comments. Thanks for the post. (Ladies and Gentlemen, I am the proud owner of his fine photograph)

I found it interesting to read the comments and to find out how much people speculate their opinions. Each one valid, of course, since I have no definitive information to offer.

We don't really know that the book on the table is a Bible. We don't know that the man in back is a priest. The other "papers" in hand are completely intriguing. They could be wedding licenses, a travel brochure, citizenship papers or the Lakewood Sun Post. I made that last one up...

Also, as I examine the photo closely, I see everyone is pretty much looking at the camera. Perhaps the man on the right is looking more at the photographer, though.

Regardless of what we all might think, they sure are wearing some fancy finery!


Nancy said...

When I enlarged this photo to look at details, I felt like the three people on the left, boy, mother, young woman, were making eye contact with me across the barrier of time. Amazing! About the papers and books, wouldn't you at least think that it indicates that they are literate? (No offense to anyone - lots of people were not able to read and write around the time this photo was taken.) It's such a shame that no one recorded who these people are and the date it was taken. Thanks for sharing it with us, Kimy and Gianni.