I really like this photo, from a small antique shop in Santa Cruz, California. It’s labeled Libby and Grace.

It’s difficult to tell much about when and where the photograph was taken. The girls’ hats, dresses, and shoes look like they are from the late 1910s, but they appear to be walking in a very modern-looking subdivision, complete with a roundabout.

Their features aren’t clear enough to see if they look alike, but my first guess was that Libby and Grace were sisters. Libby was the girl in the foreground, and that Grace was the older, more serious sister. Then I noticed that the girl in the foreground (I’ll just call her Libby, and the other girl Grace) is better dressed by far, and this is in an era in which sisters would probably have similar clothes, often handmade. Libby is wearing a pretty dress, button-up boots, and a whimsical hat. Grace is dressed much more casually. Her shoes look like loafers and she is wearing a severe hat. She’s also carrying something, but in an odd way. Whatever it is, she is holding it up and close to her chest.

I had two theories about the girls:

The first theory is that they are sisters or old family friends, and that Libby was the fun-loving charming half of the duo, and Grace was the jealous, contemptuous older sister/friend who spent most of her time repressing Libby. She scowls in the background, as Libby makes a funny face at the camera.

The second theory is that Libby’s expression indicates she really is upset, and Grace is not jealous but angry. They may be strangers, or not. What if Grace caught Libby stealing something and was marching her toward some kind of justice, with the evidence in her hand?

I found this fascinating photograph in a pawn shop yesterday:


Who are the 55 people in the picture? They must have been rather well-to-do, based on their fashionable clothing. The women’s hemlines and hats are circa 1914. Leaves are on the trees, nobody is wearing a jacket, and the children are dressed in white: it must be summer. Some adults smile, the children look serious, and all are posed as though in a formal photograph.

Here are the things that stand out:

  • If it is a formal photograph, it’s skewed off-center, cutting off people on the crowded right side of the image. It also contains a lot of ground and sky, whereas some of the people are blurred or obscured.
  • Though there are benches, they are empty except for one woman, whose arm is around a child standing beside her. Older women, who would appear to be more natural occupants of the bench in the summer, are standing.
  • There are only three men, and dozens of women and children. The men are all on the left side of the photo.
  • Two of the men look to be in their 20s and dressed more formally than the rest of the group.
  • The group is in a wooded area, that looks like a campground. They are in front of a Chinese hip-and-gabled roof, unusual for most places in the US at the time.
  • There’s a sign on the upper-right, and the only word that can be clearly read is “fires”.

It’s not a wedding. Perhaps it’s a church outing or a family reunion? Yet I don’t feel satisfied.

Left side of the photograph, with the near-empty bench in the foreground
Left side of the photograph, with an empty bench in the foreground
The Chinese roof and sign in the woods
The Chinese roof and the sign
The children are in the center and on the right.
The serious children