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Tuesday 6.21.05: Minnie's Mask

I'm still thinking about my Chautauqua family and a story to tell. Katie writes:

Maybe you'll have to make one up. Write a fiction, using the truth you know as a jumping off point, and illustrate it with the gorgeous... photographs.

Here is Minnie Sackett Mason. I've lined up details from portraits of her -- portraits that span about 30 years. They are lovely, yet they strike me a little cold. Was it Minnie or was it the nature of portrait photography at the turn of the century? Maybe Minnie had bad teeth. Maybe she hated living in a small town. Maybe she was a cold fish. Maybe she was a shy person, simply mysterious.

Tintype: Minnie Sackett as a toddlerMaybe it was the nature of photography. For the first few decades of this new technology you had to hold rock still for the long exposure time. It was advisable to have a quiet, placid expression than to try to hold a big grin.

But it still gets me back to my thinking about masks. Should photography give us a beautiful mask to wear or should it reveal who we really are? Or maybe we want the mask to reveal us for the glamorous, fascinating persons we long to be.

Years ago my sister treated me to a session at Glamour Shots. They piled on the make-up, poufed out my hair, and gave me a costume. The resulting photos were cute in a 1980s sort of way -- Annie Hall meets "Dynasty." Jim still carries a couple in his wallet, but I've grown to hate them. They are darling but totally phony. Absolute masks. Not me.

The little cartoon icon of myself, above, is a mask too but it's a mask I invented for myself to reveal my bookish, red-lipstick self.

I wonder what Minnie would say about her masks.