Friday, July 6, 2012
Keep the home fires burning...
But not just any old photos, oh no! I'm very particular about which sort. I only collect portraits of World War I soldiers.
You'd be surprised how many there are out there, languishing away in second hand shops or sold like trading cards on online auction sites. You can get them for as cheap as a couple of dollars, or as expensive as several hundred. So many of them, in varying conditions, but each and every one of them a little mystery. Who what he? What was his life like? Did he die in the war, or did he come home? How did his photo end up being passed around like this rather than holding a place of honour in someone's family photo album?
I think the reason I started collecting them is that I hated the idea of these pictures of these poor, unnamed boys just floating around out there, homeless and unwanted. I just wanted to take them all in and, even if I can't give them back their names, the least I can do is give them a place.
Each of these boys lived, loved, laughed, cried and died, and the idea that they've just been shuffled off to some dusty old box somewhere, then sold in an estate sale or something makes me sadder than I can say. I can't help feeling like I'm making a difference by finding and preserving them.
If you also take into consideration how expensive photos were back then it means even more. It's not like today where you can take a hundred photos on a digital camera and then get rid of the ones you don't want later. Back then, each photo was an event, carefully planned and executed. Each photo mattered.
When I tell some people about my boys they ask me if I don't think it's a little morbid. After all, I'm collecting photos of people I don't know, who aren't related to me, and who in all likelihood died almost a hundred years ago. I suppose they're right, it is a little maudlin. But at least I'm not as bad as the post mortem photograph collectors!
There's a huge market on E-Bay for post mortem photographs, and a lot of them go for quite a lot of money. Sure I collect photos of people who are dead, but at least I'm not collecting photos of dead people! It's an important distinction to make!
NB. All the pictures on this post are from my collection. Each is of an unnamed soldier which I found and took in. If you think you recognise one of them, please let me know. I'd love to be able to return them to their families.