I love vintage photographs, particularly of children. Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I’m fascinated with how kids are portrayed, what they are wearing, how they are posed and what they are posed with.
I first noticed the strange tendency of parents to pose their children with odd items or in unusual positions when I was in the Prado in Spain. There are a LOT of portraits of children and babies in the Prado. True, most of them are of baby Jesus. Probably 99% of them are of baby Jesus and I can say with certainty that centuries of paintings of baby Jesus have not produced any kind of artistic consensus on what, exactly, baby Jesus looked like. There are, however, a few artists who thought he must have been born with a man face, thus creating some of the most disturbing baby images I have ever seen.
The other portraits of children in the Prado seemed equally odd (if not as creepy) as they were posed with strange objects, books, musical instruments, pets, and a lot of old lady jewelry. An art historian friend told me this was done to show the child’s literacy, or musical prowess or to further demonstrate the family’s wealth (as if an oil painting wasn’t enough). Like Louis XV posing with a dog AND a monkey in 1714. Lucky kid. I always wanted a monkey! My mom promised me she would buy me one if I never married and stayed with her forever. I was also to get a Camaro in the deal but I waited until I was 25 and then gave up. In any event….
This tendency of parents to use a portrait of a child to say something larger about the family itself obviously continued in 19th century photographs, as demonstrated by the child’s photos that opened this blog. Having a dog chair obviously meant you were wealthy, as did posing your baby with a pocketbook full of money (super subtle!). And the first one? I have absolutely no idea. What does it mean if you pose your son with a pipe in his mouth and his hand down his pants? Again, I have absolutely no idea. Please feel free to comment if YOU have an idea about this. I’d love to hear it.
Does all this make you wonder about what your own childhood photos say about you and your family? Me too. You can see why.
This is obviously another photo which raises a lot of questions. Like, where did I get that wig? Who wore a wig? Did my mom wear a wig and I never knew? I am tremendously bad at spotting wigs and hair pieces of all kinds but, seriously, wouldn’t I know if my mom wore a wig? And how did I get Candy, the meanest cocker spaniel ever to roam the planet, to sit on my lap? Why isn’t she biting me like she usually did? And, more importantly, whatever happened to my J.J. Walker “Dynomite” denim hat from Good Times. I loved that hat! Can’t believe I lost that!
Overall, I must admit that this photo does say a great deal about the bizarre and often zany family I grew up in. My childhood photos of my mom pretty much confirm this.
P.S. Does that look like a wig?