Friday, November 13, 2009

Around the World in Six Photographs

Good afternoon,

Friday has come around again, and that means I have some new images for you. I'll leave this post somewhat slim on description, and focus on the images. The last two posts have been fairly heavy on information, so I will allow these photos some breathing room, providing only what limited context I have available.

As a bit of context before presenting the images, these items were found in a series of Poplar Grove concerning the early twentieth century. They are primarily photos and postcards from the wanderings of one or another member of the family. In the case of postcards from Europe, it is not immediately clear who the buyer or intended recipient was, as they do not have any information written on them. They are fascinating, however, in their documentation of a place now foreign to us.

This is a picture, as indicated by an inscription, of Jacob Martenis and his wife "around 1900," in Wilmington, Delaware. Their facial expressions are somewhat mysterious. The woman in the photograph wore an amused visage, while her husband looked down, expressionless.

To the right is a photograph from Barcelona in 1929. It depicts a street scene in a bustling metropolis. Barcelona, in 1929, was hosting the International Exposition, and populated streets like this would be unsurprising. What is somewhat chilling about the pleasant quality of this image, however, is the looming shadow of the Spanish Civil War, which would erupt in the following decade. On a more amusing note, click on the image to the lower-left to find a building being constructed. This church, the Sagrada Familia, was begun in 1882 and remains unfinished. It actually looks quite similar today, since much of this work was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, and has proceeded under several different architects since then. Feel free to type the name into google and find more recent photos in which the surrounding area has changed but the facade has remained very similar.

The next photo, to the right, is an admittedly context-free addition. I find it simply evocative of an early twentieth-century American landscape. Train tracks run by a row of shops with hills rising in the distance. This is likely an image of a potential boom-town, but any information beyond that is elusive. The dog left at the store-front seems a particularly personal touch, and one wonders if the dog belonged to the photographer or some patron of the store.

The final two images are documents from Lloyd T. Emory's South American expedition. Emory was searching for resources that might be exploited by the United States, and took any number of photos of a modernizing Brazil. One of the most evocative pictures of the difference between the country's past and its future was this photo of what appears to be a nineteenth century sailing vessel.

To the right is an image very similar to the second one, found above. This scene is probably from a Brazilian town at the beginning of the twentieth century, suggested by the labeled photos that bookend it. This picture was, of course, far less populous than the photograph from Barcelona, but again juxtaposed the old and the new. Men and women in twentieth century clothing walked past nineteenth century buildings set against a much older fortress in the background. The photo captured the scenery of a moment in time that has since disappeared.

I hope these images provide a brief and interesting glimpse into the past. Typically, we present written documents for you to observe, but this week I thought some photos might bring you closer to the experiences of those living at Poplar Grove. This international character is one that we have not covered significantly so far, and we hope to explore it further in the future. Hundreds of other photos are being scanned at the moment, and all will be accessible once the collection is online. Thanks for reading, and please do add any insights you can to these somewhat mysterious documents by posting in the comments section below.

-Christian

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