Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Questions I have about "other people's lives"

This entry is a revised version of a note that I posted to Facebook on May 28, 2010. At that time, I was about 100 images away from scanning in the entire collection of negatives I had acquired earlier that month at a local yard sale (find the backstory on that here) and had started to formulate a list of questions I had about the people and places I was looking at. Other questions had to do with the collection more generally--who it belonged to, why it was for sale in the first place, etc.

My first question was simply: Who is the guy pictured above? Leon didn't know but people who have viewed this picture have gotten a kick out of it.

2. From whom, exactly, did I buy these negatives and the other photo equipment? I have good reason to believe that the seller may have been Carl's son, but since he didn't strike me as especially friendly or chatty, I hesitate to go back there and ask him about the images.

3. Related to question 2, did the seller know there were negatives in the boxes? If so, why would he sell (as opposed to destroying) them?

4. Related to my first question: Aside from Carl, Nancy, Doris, Mildred (Leon's sister, also pictured below) and her friend, Esther, there are many people featured in these images that I'd like to know more about and/or have names for.

In some instances, the people in the background intrigued me as much as, if not more than, the subjects in the foreground. For example, in this picture of Mildred at the beach there is a figure to the right--a thin, muscular individual with dark hair. I thought she was incredibly striking and when I asked Leon if the person looked familiar, I believe he referred to the figure as "he." If I recall correctly, Leon said the guy had long hair and would often wear it in a braid. [Note: When I met with Leon a second time and asked him more about this person, Leon didn't recall saying it was a he and thought maybe the person was just a very muscular woman.]

While on the subject of putting names (and stories) with faces, I'd love to know who this guy is. He appears in many of the shots contained in the letter from Howard, so I assumed that this had to be Carl. But could it be Howard? The first time I met with Leon, I brought up this picture and said, "Okay, I'm guessing this has gotta be Carl, right?" He was like, "nope. definitely not." At least I had correctly guessed who Nancy, Carl's wife, was.

My fifth question has to do with whose writing is on the envelopes. This question about penmanship/authorship doesn't have to do with envelopes from the professional photo places, but the air mail envelopes and other small envelopes containing cut negatives. It appears to be one person's handwriting, but I could be wrong. Related to this question is one that has to do with how much (or how often) the negatives might have been shuffled around and reorganized or reclassified over time. . .and by whom? Case it point, I don't even know for sure if the letter from Howard contained negatives--whether it's a matter of the letter containing these specific negatives or any negatives at all. Maybe they were prints contained in the letter instead?

6. Related to issues of authorship, organization and annotation: How many photographers are represented in this collection? When I first purchased the images, I had assumed (and likely only because it was the name that appeared on most of the photo service envelopes) that Carl had taken all or most of these photographs. But there are many photos that Carl couldn't have taken unless he frequently used a self-timing device. That other figures are represented here wearing or holding cameras (Nancy, for one) suggests that there are other photographers (i.e., their work/vision) represented here. Also, if the letter from Howard contained negatives or prints, it stands to reason his work is also represented here.

7. When, where, how, etc. did Nancy and Carl die? Leon said that they died "recently" (Nancy died first, Carl died shortly thereafter) but he couldn't remember exactly when and I have no idea if Leon's use of "recently" indicates a year ago or 10 years ago.

8. Where is Nancy's family buried? I have a couple of pictures of headstones. My guess is that the cemetery is around here, I've just not had time to wander around the closest ones to see what I can find.

9. Location, location, location. The question I probably most often asked myself while working on the scanning portion of this project was this: "Okay--where are we now?" A variation: "Okay, where are you guys taking me today?" One day I'd be transported to a hotel in Pennsylvania, the next day to the beach, the next day to Japan. As I indicated earlier, I'd like to have a better sense of where the pictures were taken--and here I mean the beach shots, the street shots, the aerial shots as well as the military and backyard and indoor scenes. One thing I've wondered is this: Given that both Nancy and Carl were from this area, how does one account for the images from Pennsylvania? Did relatives live there? Did they vacation there? I guess that location stand out--and in particular, Pennsylvania--since Howard's return address was in PA.

10. This may seem like an obvious question, but one of the things I'd most like to know is what Nancy was like. Part of my curiosity stems from having scanned in, printed up and, in short, having studied, sooo many images of this woman and having wondered what might have happened right before, during, or after the image was taken. Leon has told me a few things, but one of the reasons I'm most hoping to meet with Doris is to learn more about Nancy.

and, finally, my greedy side wants me to ask:

11. are there more negatives, prints, etc? and why weren't there any cameras for sale that day? so much developing stuff but no cameras. that struck me as odd.

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