I work part-time in a vintage shop appropriately named Very Vintage. We offer quality antique and retro items that cater to the eclectic collector and home decorator.
I enjoy selling items that have history, especially if there is a story behind the piece. An old suitcase with the travel labels still attached or a set of souvenir beverage glasses from the 1967 world expo, if only these items could talk, what knowledge would they share?
Technological advances we take for granted today were luxuries 100 years ago. Take photographs for example, who doesn’t have a digital camera nowadays? For that matter who doesn’t have a digital camera as well as a video recording feature on their cell phone? One has only to watch the daily news broadcast to see the latest scandal or tragedy unfold, recorded by bystanders and uploaded instantly for all the world to see.
Personal cameras where just beginning to become widely available a century ago but were consider a novelty to the average person. Portrait Photography was still a rare and special luxury. Because the majority of the population, in the early part of the 1900’s, lived either on farms or in small communities, few opportunities were available for folks to immortalize themselves in a photograph. The subject(s) would dress in their finest attire and pose with a serious regard befitting the auspicious occasion. Rarely was more than one copy made.
So it amazes me when early portraits come into the store to be sold. Such is the case with a photograph of a Victorian woman we currently have in the shop. The picture is an 8 x 10 of a middle aged Victorian woman regally sitting on the edge of a upholstered chair, dressed in splendid silk and lace from neck to toe and wearing a strand of jet beads. Her hair is pinned in an elaborate fashion on top of her head and in her right hand she holds a fan.
Who is this lady? Why do we have her portrait? Is there no family left that remembers her enough to keep her picture? Was she someone’s mother, grandmother, or crazy spinster aunt? Is this the last evidence of her existence on earth?
In today’s media crazy world the moment a baby is born a pictorial record is created of it’s life. Her candid image is posted weekly on Facebook, his childhood is recorded in yearly class photo packages complete with wallet size for the proud parents and grandparents and milestones are marked with a catalogue of home videos.
If you had lived a century ago, you would consider yourself lucky if you had even one photo that recorded your image for posterity, so it makes me sad that this mysterious Victorian ladies portrait is languishing in obscurity in our vintage shop. Her very existence filtered down to and 8 x 10.
With the exception of famous people throughout history that have been documented in paintings, books and now film, the life’s of the vast majority of humans will fade quickly from memory. Their existence wiped clean from this earth within decades of their passing. Only traces will remain at first, a few personal items such as a watch or a ring, perhaps a weathered grave marker and maybe a photo or two to jog the memories of loved ones. How many generations will pass before even those items are lost or forgotten?
In the past, because of sparse population and even sparser records, a person could live, die and fade into anonymity with little trace of their existence. Today, even though we have technology that makes it almost impossible to walk this earth without some kind of record of it, I wonder if we will end up suffering from a different kind of anonymity, that of being lost in the crowd, of our existence being buried in the billions of pieces of useless data collected so that all that is left is an 8 x 10 department store portrait of you for sale in a futuristic vintage shop.
Will the shopkeeper wonder who you were?
Weekly Writing Challenge, Traces. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/weekly-writing-challenge-traces/
2 thoughts on “The Photogragh”