April 9, 2009

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

He might have been mistaken for a man sitting suspended during a long daguerreotype exposure, a subject who had become dazed and disoriented as the clock ticked away and the slow plate soaked up his image fixed for all time a portion of his soul.
- excerpt from Cold Mountain, a novel by Charles Frazier

Reading Charles Fraziers first novel, Cold Mountain is a deep pleasure for me like all great story tellers you become lost in Charles' story and you relish each page. I will become so taken with a passage from a well written novel that I will be compelled to read it over and over again, slowly, absorbing the meaning, and letting the visual images pass through my minds eye - like the one above regarding daguerreotypes. Often I am then further inspired to write the passage in my artist journal so that I can refer to it again easily in the coming year as I fill the pages with inspirational bits and pieces.

I highly recommend this book for your reading pleasure this year - add it to the list.

Photos were once rare and precious, small treasures to be held tenderly in the hand and placed in a special velvet lined box for safe keeping between viewings. The daguerreotypes were dark, and a little hazy making them even more beautiful as we imagine the color of the eye and shade of hair. It's like candle light...


The brass velvet lined cases with tiny latches gave the photos even more drama and enhanced the experience - the cool metal of the brass and soft velvet under fingertip protecting the images contained within of sisters, sweethearts, mothers, sons and daughters.

The stern faces and rigid postures were due to the process that required complete stillness by the subject for long minutes during the sitting. Photo engagements for family portraits could take an entire afternoon and were a celebrated event.  The excitement over having ones photo taken which was a novelty at the time would offset the boredom and tediousness of the sitting.


What a lovely little girl, can you imagine her personality from this photo? She seems like an intelligent young lady of about eleven years with a sensible hair style and lean frame. I can imagine her baking cookies with her mother, playing the piano well, being very conscientious about her studies and being a helpful girl with her little brothers and sisters. When she grew up she became a school teacher in a one room school house teaching ten students varying in age from six years to twelve years of age.  The older boys once placed a small black snake in the girl's outhouse that was very alarming to their young teacher when she found that they had also latched the door from outside preventing a hasty escape.  Once the boys saw how hysterical their young teacher was when she emerged from the outhouse they were filled with remorse and treated her quite nicely from that point forward.

Now how about this one.....look closely at her face....


Now I imagine this little lass being like the Scarlett O'Hara character in Gone With The Wind, spoiled, head strong, intelligent - a natural born survivor. All a delight to her doting father who championed every fit of temper his little lass demonstrated.    Much to the dismay of her mother and family.  She married well, had a well appointed home where she lived a lonely, dissatisfied life....in her perfect surroundings where she was served afternoon tea at exactly 2pm each day by her housekeeper.

Oh enough of that!  How boring....

Maybe she ran away from home at an early age and became a circus performer in the center ring of the Barnum and Bailey circus balancing on the back of a galloping white stallion while balancing on one foot......  how daring and exciting!  

She married the elephant trainer and left the circus to live in India with the peaceful elephants of the region, protecting them from harm and capture.  They had two lovely children that grew up with colorful parrots, exotic pets and loving parents - the perfect childhood.



A prize stallion could also be a cause for a photo - Is that a harness I see?  Could this horse have drawn a fine carriage for a it's proud owner?   Is this an advertisement for a horse for sale or a photo of a son in his new profession of being a stable hand?  It's very mysterious...

Sweet sisters, the eldest with her hand on her middle sister's shoulder who I assure you resents the fact that her elder sister gets the higher seat and is touching her at all - see the clinched fist in her lap? There is a fierce rivalry between first and second born children that is timeless. The little one just seems bored with the whole thing, confused by the ongoing battle of wills between her elder siblings that she will never fully understand.  She wonders why they can't just get along with one another....

Were there more children born to this family and if so, I wonder how the dynamic changed if the next child born was a son?  

This is my fascination with darguerrotypes, the imagined stories are endless and ever changing as I gaze at the images and wait for the story to unfold.....



4 comments:

Brenda@View From The Pines said...

Oh, as I browse the local antique mall, I wonder about the old photographs following me with their empty eyes. Why they are in this shop, instead of in a family scrapbook. I want to bring them all home and name them. I have one in this room. A handsome little tot who would be probably over a hundred years old (Albert). I have gathered him into my little family. He will never be in a musty old mall again.
Brenda

Lee W - The Way I See It said...

I lvoe al of yor old photos, and the stories. I often wonde rabout the people in them too.

GW said...

I found your blog while searching for information about Serenity Gardens windchimes, one of which I received as a gift this week. Your blog is a delight! My family kids me about all my "boughten ancestors", my vintage photos found at antique stores and flea markets through the years. I don't own any daguerreotypes, but I share your curiosity about the people and their stories. I like seeing group pictures from schools; it's fun figuring out who the siblings were, which kids were the scholars, which the class clowns, etc.

Jodie LeJeune said...

Wow girl, now I know I'm not the only one who wonders about the people in old photos...I can daydream for hours. This post was so cool!
everything vintage

ps...have I told you that your photography is gorgeous? I've so enjoyed surfing your blog!!!! :)