Adopted Ancestors

I have recently begun collecting old photographs.  They sit in a large cookie tin at Pippin Vintage, in New York City, and only cost a dollar each.

My favorites are of women in groups or alone, or of family groups.  I look for the ones with some quickness of expression, some hint of narrative that whispers at me through the paper.  In speaking with the man in the shop, I learned that my tastes run precisely counter to those of the wider market, where men in uniform command the highest prices.

Finding a set of photographs is wonderful.  You have to search through a box of photographs of different sizes, eras and locations, and then one face will emerge as abruptly familiar.  You’ve seen it before in a slightly different pose, a different setting.  There are collections taken on the same day or taken moments apart so that they show the evolution of a smile, a turn to speak with someone else, the arrival of another in the frozen scene.

Handwritten messages on the back feel like bottles washed up on the shore.  Usually there are names and dates only in a spidery pencil hand, but sometimes there’s an inside joke, or explanation.  One had I assure you that this was unposed and another (on an image I chose not to take home) Me and Joe at the Falls, sitting.  He says he can only cheat standing up!

Always, always, there are more questions than answers.

On the back: On a Walk with the Fords

On the back: With This and the Fords

It seems that Mr. Ford took the first photograph, that his hat is seen in the shadow.  Does that mean that they asked a stranger to take the second?

Is the baby called ‘This”?

There was one more, which feels like a bedtime story compared to the other two.

And on the back of this one is written nothing at all.

Below are her faces enlarged.  I had thought they were the same woman in the first two and the third, cradling the infant and on that Walk with the Fords, but now I’m not sure.  They might be the same woman at different ages, or a girl and her mother.  I’m not sure anymore, and am always open to opinions.


I have asked the man at the shop to keep aside any for me of children playing.  He didn’t have any at the moment, but there were many of children in family groups, and some interesting ones of them posed alone.  They’ll have to wait for scanning, I’m afraid.

Am wondering now what exactly I might do with them.  I’ll start posting relevant ones as I can, and anyone who wants to can use them as they please, though I’d appreciate a link back.


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