In pursuing my vintage photograph obsession, I run across basic studio portraits all the time, ranging in date from the 1800s through the 1970s. Some might think that seeing simple portraits of intentionally-posed individuals over and over again would get boring, but I find quite the opposite. These portraits offer a consistent window into times past -- into changing clothing and hairstyles, jewelry and other fashion trends, as well as improvements and changes in photography itself.
In terms of general presentation, studio portraits have changed very little over the past 80 years or so. The person to be photographed is seated in front of a simple backdrop or wall. The portrait is taken in a consciously posed manner, either straight-on or at an angle, or sometimes in profile. Attention is paid to proper lighting, and the subjects typically take care with their appearance, wearing clean, pressed clothes, sporting carefully coiffed hair, and women wearing fresh make-up.
While full-length portraits were very common from the late 1800s through the 1930s or so, by the 1940s we start seeing many more "head-and-shoulder" style portraits. The shift to head-and-shoulder portraits does limit our ability to follow certain trends, such as shoe fashions and dress-lengths, but there is still plenty to examine, learn, and enjoy.
The inspiration for this post was a young woman named Henryetta. Here she is in 1941:
This portrait grabbed my attention because of her fabulous jacket -- and because her crooked-tooth smile, curly hairdo, and bright eyes made me smile, too!
Really, isn't her jacket wonderful? It is classic 1940s, with that wide, gingham collar and matching big, fabric-covered buttons and pocket. If you look closely at the neckline, a polka-dot blouse peeks out from underneath the checked jacket collar. She is wearing two large rings, one on the ring finger of each hand. It looks like she was posed with her hands fingers extended to intentionally show off the rings. Maybe the photographer just thought the rings added interest to the photograph. But I prefer to think that the rings were of some special significance to Henryetta -- maybe one is a class ring, and the other a family heirloom -- and so she wanted to make sure they played a prominent role in her portrait.
Mar 28, 2013
Mar 11, 2013
|Mary Pavlik, 1926|
I always feel a twinge of wistfulness and nostalgia when looking at old photographs of people from times past. Most of the time, the vintage photographs that we seek out, collect, and sell lack any kind of identifying information. We are left to wonder who these people were, where they lived, what they were like, what joys and sorrows they lived through ... and why their images have been discarded, falling into the hands of strangers who know nothing of their history.
At Cassie's Tale, we do our best to rescue and bring life back to these unknown ancestors and their images, to find them good homes with people who will enjoy and appreciate them. And whenever we come across photographs that include identifying information, we do our best to find out more, and to present that knowledge in the hopes that someone might discover a lost ancestor, and make them found.
So far, we have not found a home for this woman from New York. Her photo, shown above, was taken in 1926 by the well-known portrait photography studio of Sol. Young in the Bronx, New York. Our research shows that her name was Mary Pavlik, and that she was born in 1885, making her 41 years old at the time the photo was taken. Census records show that she immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia, and that in 1930 she was still living in the Bronx with her son, Paul G. Pavlik.
Her gray and silver hair is pulled loosely back, with some frizzy ends flying free. She wears a loose-fitting black blouse with pleats and a collarless scoop neck. A circle pin sits alongside her long, graduated bead necklace. She wears a pair of wonderful round glasses with celluloid covered rims - a style typical of the 1920s. There is a hint of a smile at the edges of her mouth. She has strong, arched eyebrows, and her eyes are bright and alert, albeit a little tired-looking. To me, this is an image of a strong, proud, and intelligent woman.
Does Mary belong to your family tree? If she does, please let us know - we love to hear "reunion" stories!