Who is the Girl on the Stairs?

I don’t know. She’s not a relative of mine.

You may be wondering why do I have this photograph and other precious memories of some families that appear to be (from clues in the photos) living in Kansas in the early to mid-1900s? Because a family lost them due to an unpaid storage locker. This is where their family photographs and albums were stored and when the rental bill went unpaid, the locker contents were auctioned off and the photographs were bought up by a dealer and brought to the local flea market and put up for sale.

In some ways it’s like the Vivian Maier story. The photos weren’t discarded after a death in the family and the surviving members had time to sort through and keep the ones they wanted. The family lost them all.

There were a half-dozen people at the flea market this past weekend picking through their family photo albums. I settled on a small box of mostly black and whites.

Does the family realize what they lost? Does it matter? Does it matter if we lose our family photos of today? Some of these photographs are close to 100 years old. What are the chances our phone snaps even last that long, if we never even make physical prints? Is a digital file in a cloud even really a photograph?

I met a woman once who said that she had just moved to Colorado and before moving she had boxes and boxes of slides and before the move she had them all transferred to a DVD and then tossed the slides–the camera originals.

Those slides were pieces of positive film in small plastic frames. That film was present with the photographer and the person in the photo at the time of exposure. If say it was a photo of a woman at the rim of the Grand Canyon, then the light that was falling on that woman and the Grand Canyon on that very day is the light that reflected off of her and made that photograph.

“And then I tossed all the slides away,” she said. What is photography nowadays, specifically family photographs?

Back to Kansas. It’s a wonderful collection of photographs that I purchased, these and more for the princely sum of a tenner. They’re time travel for us today beside being the remnants of the memories of a family. If only they had them. If anyone knows how to find the family, I’d be glad to return them to them.

You can see a more of this collection of photos at this gallery link: KennethWajda.com/vernacular2021/ and view them large. The first photograph is actually an original negative, the rest are photographic prints. And there are a couple fun surprise pieces of ephemera at the end of the gallery. Enjoy!

Want to support my shows? You can, just visit this link at Paypal, or go to SupportKenneth.com to add your monthly contribution to keep the lights on!

Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Who is the Girl on the Stairs?

Add yours

  1. Ooh, you tapped a vein here. Long comment alert. I may make this a post on my own blog later.

    It always makes me very sad to find old family photographs for sale in an antique store or at a flea market. I want to rescue them all. Space is tight in our home, so I refrain.

    My mom made all of our family photographs. She had a big 126 camera with a built-in battery-powered flash (quite unusual in the early 1970s) that she bought with green stamps, or something. Used it well into the late 1980s. If memory serves she replaced it with a 35mm point-and-shoot, and then another.

    I’ve never seen most of those photographs! She made them, had them developed and printed, and put them in boxes. I asked after them a couple years ago and she said she still had them, though she was slowly getting rid of the negatives. I asked her to cease and desist, as those negatives could be scanned or reprinted. She acquiesced. We’ve yet to work out when I can see those photographs.

    But what of those images after my only sibling and I are gone? Will my children care? They won’t even know who many of the people in those images are — my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, people they’ve never met. It’s the same for me with the few photographs my mother has of her family. I sometimes recognize my grandmother, very young, in them. The rest of the people are strangers to me. Mom has to tell me who they are, and recount her memories, for them to mean anything to me. I can try to remember those memories to share them with my children. But will they feel any connection to distant ancestors who lived in another place and time? What, then, of those photographs after my mother is gone?

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    1. Wow, so is there a time frame for family photographs before they lose value? I sure hope not but what you conjecture about your own children may be true. I don’t have kids so I know I don’t experience them the same way–I wonder if that has something to do with my interest in preserving them. Long comments are welcome! Thanks, Jim.

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