Ghosts In The Photographs

I’m sorting through abandoned family photographs and suddenly I’m creeped out by an overwhelming sense of… melancholy? The subjects are long dead but the spirit of the photos linger on.

Years ago Jim assembled a collection of 19th century cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards, all made by Rochester photographers. They are what antique store dealers refer to as “instant ancestors.” Jim made quite a little research project of organizing them by photographer. We tried the give the whole bunch to the local historical society, but my contact there scoffed. People are looking for photos of their ancestors. “All we need,” he sneered, “is another pile of useless, unlabeled pictures.”

Here are these people, all dressed up in their finery, celebrating weddings, reunions, baptisms or their children arriving at a state of supreme darlingness. They go to the local photo studio for a portrait, to capture the moment. The photo is sent to grandma or treasured in an album.

But… no labels… family dies out or downsizes… boxes of old photos find their way to yard sales, flea markets, or the antique dealer who carts away the dining room set. Jim bought them in bunches for his “Rochester photographer” collection and when that was “complete” (around 1990), they were crammed into three drawers in a cabinet in my studio. Sic transit gloria.

But all that long-lost joy clings to the photos. There’s a kind of wistfulness — a kind of longing to be treasured again.

I’m treasuring them for a few days, till I can get them sorted by “topic” and put on that vast orphan train we call ebay to be adopted by someone who has a home for “infants” or “pretty girls” or “men with mustaches.” (2/16/10 Auctions of cabinet cards this week: 12 lots, totally 255 photos at my ebay store.)

I’m doing crude little videos to provide a glance at what’s in each lot. Here’s one of “sibling portraits.” My Rochester ghosts.

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One Response to Ghosts In The Photographs

  1. Pat says:

    Making me think! I know I enjoyed the faces…but I also enjoyed the fashion. Do you have dates?

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