Saturday, November 19, 2011

Till Minne

I came across this little group of European cartes de visite in a box in an antique shop for a nominal price and bought the lot of them. Some of them clearly belong together; others, particularly the last, may have gotten mixed in by chance.

The first two images are by a photographer named Agnes Lundbom in Bäckefors, Sweden, which is now part of the municipality of Bengtsfors. The two sitters were likely related, and wear the same pin, which reads "Tille Minne" (In Memory or In Remembrance), but both the jewelry and the clothes may have been studio props.

The next three are apparently also Swedish, from a studio named Visit Fotografi, and once again the first two sitters are wearing what appears to be an identical crescent moon and star pin, although it's hard to see the similarity without a magnifying glass because of the difference in angle and exposure. All three cards have traces of glue and paper in the same spot on the reverse, indicating that they were probably kept in an album together. There is a very faint pencil inscription on the back of the first; it is all but unreadable but the woman's name may have been Augusta.

The next two photographs were taken by Norwegian studios, the first by Aug. Haraldsson in Christiania (now Oslo) or Arendal, the other by Olaf M. Madsen in Fredrikshald (now Halden) near the border with Sweden. Both have ornate printed designs on the reverse side which include the words pladen opbevares, meaning, I'm told, that the photographer held onto the negative in case the customer wanted copies at some future date. On the back of the first one there is a space for a year, with the first digits "18" preprinted, so it was probably taken before 1900.

The last photograph comes from the studio of Beck Ödön in Budapest at the other extreme of Europe, and is the only one for which it's possible to assign the sitter a reasonably firm identity. According to an inscription on the back, written first in pencil and then partially traced over in ink, this young man is one Andrew Schwalier. Underneath his name, written in English and in ink, are the words "Born - 10/20/88." Since he appears to be between twelve and fifteen, the image was probably taken just after the beginning of the 20th century. According to a Social Security death record, an Andrew Schwalier with that birthdate died in New York in 1970. Unless he was an American native travelling in Budapest at the time he sat for this portrait it's likely that he had Americanized his original given name at some point.

Vast quantities of studio portraits like these were produced in the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, in Europe, the US, and probably other parts of the world as well. A good number still survive, some carefully labelled in family photo albums or historical collections, others lurking in boxes and drawers or wandering the world, separated forever from their identities, their stories, their tragedies and dreams.

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