Saturday, May 12, 2007

Great Women

Happy Mother's Day! I've come up with a little holiday treat this year, featuring a few of my favorite vintage photos, which highlight some extraordinary women -- mothers I miss very much, though they all still inhabit my daily life; they are part of my very being, in fact. These are also really neat photos. The first two are probably close to 40 years old and the last likely dates back 25 years or more.

This first one is of my parents. My father's glasses and sideburns date the picture more than anything else. I suspect it was a candid shot, taken by someone who was just snapping pictures, but still I think both the composition and depth of field are well done. The blues in this image -- from my mother's eyes, to my father's shirt, and into the background -- dazzle me. This is a typical moment, with my mother open to all that surrounds her, while my father, no matter what, always found her to be the most fascinating thing in the room. (Believe it or not, my father hasn't changed much since this photo was taken. He has a bit of gray, but that's about the only difference. He wore the same tux to my wedding that he wore to his own and I'm sure it still fits him today.)

This next photo always makes me laugh. It captures a brief and unique point in fashion history, when some very proper women not only wore these dresses out in public, but then went so far as to pose for a picture together in them! The woman on our right is my maternal grandmother, sharing a moment with her sisters. These women all went on to live well into their 90s, and were very accomplished -- especially for females of their generation, who typically stayed home to raise families and then struggled to entertain themselves once their kids were grown. They all graduated from college, and at times bucked the trend by having jobs. In a small town near Memphis, Tennessee, my grandmother was the first white teacher to work in an all-black school in the early 60s. She had a framed classroom photo of her with her students that she proudly displayed for decades after.

This last photo was taken probably ten or fifteen years after the first two, by my then-teenage cousin, who had recently gotten his first SLR camera. The subject is my paternal grandmother, holding her own baby picture, which was probably taken circa 1903. This grandmother was also a working woman. Her career included an era during my childhood when she sold tickets at the local (one-screen!) movie theater. I was so proud to be her granddaughter because she was lucky enough to work in that magical glassed-in booth, where everyone who went to the movies got to talk with her. It was like she was sitting on a throne, and all the people in town were standing in line just to see her (nevermind that they got a movie in the bargain as well)!


Keera said...

What a lovely Mother's Day tribute! I especially like the colorful foursome because it echos my belief that silver hair sets no limits. Far more fun to see them in the crazy 60's attire than in the cautious and drab attire so many choose as they age.

Like you, I had working grandmothers and grew up with women who did more than get married and tend house. And what stands out most in thinking about them is their humor and personalities - the sparkle in their eyes.

alice said...

These women did sparkle -- their energy is barely contained in the photos.

I agree about the crazy foursome. Their dresses are all so wildly different, but their hair is all the same, and such a great shade of gray. Their outfits really made the most of that newfangled color photography (I've always wondered if that's why the photographer wanted to do that particular shot). Since the first two are snapshots, they had to have been taken early on in the era of color photography. Instant color film was not introduced until 1963 and I don't recell how long it took before it was commonly used. A quick glance through our family albums would tell when my mother got a color camera, though (~makes a mental note to check on that when I'm up there this summer~).

Keera said...

I'd say late 60's/very early 70's because I remember Grandma and me having clothes not unlike what your relatives are wearing.

BTW, your mother looks like a lot of fun in the picture with your dad. She looks like she's about to roar with laughter, once she gets what surprised her.

Snapshot doesn't have to mean polaroid. We had a lot of photos from the 60's in color, including our 8mm films. I also remember color snaps from the late 50's in our scrapbooks, which were square (like a polaroid), rather than the 3:2 format. Cameras that took square photos were more common back then. I learned some B&W photography with one.

alice said...

Ah -- I'd missed the "polaroid" the first time I read that thing about 1963. I was picturing one of those little instamatic cameras when I read that (remember those flashes that were like aluminum cubes? Four flashes and you'd toss it in the trash). I'd be surprised if polariods from that long ago were still intact -- even the later ones never lasted all that long. The early ones were awful.

Keera said...

Polaroids are pretty durable, even if the cameras weren't.

I remember those flash cubes, too: One flash per side of the cube and careful studying of the darned thing to figure out if you had any flashes left.

I think we had an Instamatic at some point. :-) We had a lot of cameras since the whole family took pictures.

alice said...

That hasn't been my experience. I've haven't kept many polaroid prints, but in the ones I've have, the colors always faded pretty quickly -- and the really early ones sometimes disappeared all together.

Those magicubes were cool. So shiny and sparkly, they reminded me of Christmas...