Monday, December 5, 2011

Mysterious Monday - A Very Odd Photo

Today, I've decided to share one of the many photos I have in my possession of unknown (family?) folks.  I can remember seeing this one when I was younger, perhaps a teenager, in our garage where a couple of old photo albums were kept.  I have no idea who the people are in this picture, but it has always intrigued me, on a number of different levels.

I've theorized a few different interpretations of this photo, but none with any level of certainty.  No one in my family seems to know anything about its orgins, but I'm assuming by the "x" mark over the head of the guy in uniform, that he must be the subject with whom we have a connection.  I am so baffled by the other character, the pose, and the ---- well, the EVERYTHING about this picture!



I don't want to give away any of my ideas, so as not to influence yours.  Please, dear readers, leave me comments on your interpretations of this photo, or if you have actual knowledge (like, perhaps, what kind of uniform the man on the right is wearing), please share it with me.

The photo is on a 3 & 1/4 x 5 & 1/4 postcard, and I did a bit of research to attempt to get a date range for it.  According to the information I found on the site Photos Made Perfect, this postcard was produced by Kodak between 1918-1930.  I was able to determine this by the AZO stamp box, which has two triangles pointing up, and two pointing down.  Also, it's obvious that picture is posed in front of a backdrop showing the US Capital building.  I'm not sure if that means it was taken in Washington, DC or not, but I guess it's something to consider. 

I welcome, and invite your ideas!

Renate

16 comments:

Kristin said...

Both my husband and I thought the one facing forward looked like a woman. Even the coat. My husband even thought it might be a wedding photo before he came closer to see they both had on the uniforms.

Andrea Kelleher said...

I think the one facing forward is a woman too. They seem like a couple by their stance together. Interesting photo.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I believe that the person on the left was a man, and he was one of the "Harlem Hellfighters." They were sent to France and wore French uniforms and fought alongside other European soldiers. The coat resembles the French style pea coat (Look at this image: http://www.amistadresource.org/LBimages/image_07_02_020_jamesreese.jpg) It is the same exact coat worn by the man on the left. The soldier on the right was probably a soldier from one of the Mediterranean armies--allies. Look at the boots---those are not women's boots, and the soldier is also wearing pants. Google the Harlem Hellfighters and study their uniforms.

Mavis said...

It is a rather odd pose to me. I really didn't think the one facing forward looked like a woman until I read the other comments.

Kristin said...

Angela, that is great! The outfit the man on the left is wearing matches the uniform you described perfectly!

Kristin said...

Reading the history of the Harlem Hellfighters. Feeling bad that I didn't know about them before. True fighters for freedom and didn't take no stuff.

Kristin said...

Now that we know "the rest of the story" the man on the right could be giving the man on the left a heart felt and emotional thank you for your service hand shake.

Does anybody think that the man on the left looks like Henry Johnson in this photo http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/henry-johnson.htm?

Joan said...

Renate, I went crazy today with this post, the picture itself dinna show up but the image of the address side of the postcard was visible to me. Then the comments were so very interesting, I would go back and click, click, click on the post hoping that google, blogger, and picassa would loosen their hold on the picture --- ahh, to no avail, but and very interesting post and comments.

Renate said...

Hey Joan, email me at yarsan@aol.com, and I'll send you the picture. Not sure why it isn't showing up for you.

Renate

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

A very interesting post! I have been scanning in a book of World War I Real photo postcards (RPPC) taken by a WWI soldier. For some reason he went through all of them and put an "X" over his head. RPPC cards could be taken by a professional photographer or an average person (hence my Soldier). Many times they were taken by traveling photographers that could develop them on the spot. So your photo could have very well been taken in France with a backdrop the photographer had of the Capital...perhaps to entice American soldiers to use his services.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this photo is of a man and a woman. The woman is wearing all that she had to wear. The date of that photo was during poor times for many of America. I know that my own grandmother went through times when she had nothing to wear but worn hand-me-downs. Perhaps she is looking a bit more concerned because she feels awkward having her photo taken when she is not wearing what she would like to be wearing for an engagement photo. I believe these two are about to be married. It was taken in the U.S., hence the American back-drop. These are Americans. I see the soldier as an honorable young man, as you can tell by his straight, up-right posture that shows personal dignity, but not arrogance. The fact that he is lovingly and generously holding her hand also shows his character, as well as wishing to be photographed with her, even though she wishes she was wearing better clothing. He cares about her and he is not ashamed to be with her. He is also turned to the side, showing his support of her, and she is facing front, the focal point of the picture. How many men in that era respected a woman as much as this? She is feeling out of place. Perhaps they have found out that she will be having a baby, his baby, and he is showing that he still wants to be with her and honor her. This also may be why she looks out of place and awkward and scared.
I believe the "x" is just a penciled mark to show a relative or indicate a particular individual to posterity.

Anonymous said...

I have looked at the picture researched by Angela.
And it seems like the woman (I am still convinced it's a woman) is wearing the Harlem Hellfighters Uniform. Again, I believe that for some reason that's all she had to wear. As strange as that seems.
Added note: some of the photos on the Amistad site are heart-breaking. I know they need to exist so that nobody forgets how base and cruel humans can become if given authority over others.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind. Maybe I'm completely wrong about the photo!! Heather's comment makes a lot of sense, too!!
Good luck!!

Renate said...

I have to say I'd just accepted Angela's assertion that the person on the left was a Harlem Hellfighter as the answer, but now that this conversation has reopened, I'm beginning to go back to second-guessing that and going with my original thought that this is a woman. Still, I do believe that the similarity between her clothing, and that of the HH's is to near to ignore. I almost wonder if she could be wearing the uniform of a loved one, perhaps a father or brother who was lost or injured in the war? She/He just looks so somber. It's true that the gentleman on the right appears to have an expression of compassion for the figure on the left, but why? Is it as my anonymous commenter has surmised - that they were about to be married? Or, did he bring the uniform of her loved one to her to put on for the picture? Did her/his father save this young man's life, perhaps? I have so many questions!

The other thing that is still unclear is exactly what type of uniform the an on the right is wearing. I looked up bell hop uniforms from the period, and found some to be very similar.

Another thing I noticed is that the character on the left is holding the young man's hand, not vice-versa. This indicates more of a holding on, or clinging to on the part of the person on the left, moreso than an expression of compassion or protectiveness from the person on the right.

Aye-aye-aye!!!! This picture!!!!

Renate


PS... Keep your thoughts coming!

Michael Hait said...

I believe that they are both males. To me the one on the left does not look like a woman, but a younger boy. Comparing the photo to the photo of the Harlem Hellfighters' uniform, I agree with Angela's assessment.

I would like to add another note about the pose. It looks to me like the man on the right may be blind, and the boy on the left could be serving as his guide. In my opinion, this is more reasonable than this being a photograph of a man and woman. In most photos of couples, (1) they will both be facing forward, and (2) the woman puts on her "Sunday's best." If the family was so poor that the woman could not afford a dress, then they certainly would not be able to afford a professional photograph! Even if this were case, why would she be wearing the hat?

Renate said...

Michael, I am thrilled that someone else has introduced the blind theory. I had also suggested that, but I guess it was on the Afrigeneas board, because I don't see it on the comments. I also thought that the man on the right looked like he could have been blind.

I agree that the person on the left looks like EITHER a young male or (I still think, maybe) a woman. But, the blind theory would make it all make more sense, except that it would probably be unlikely that a blind person back then would have been serving in the military or (as I'd also suggested), working as a bell hop. BUT, it could be possible that he was actually injured in the war, lost his sight there, and the young man on the left became his guide or something...

The mystery continues...

Renate