Tiny Bookworm
Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 7:05PM
Timebinder in CHILD PORTRAIT


I have pointed out in previous posts that from the beginnings of studio photography, the convention of using a book as a prop was a way to signal that the subject was serious-minded and interested in knowledge; at a time when a classical education was unusual even for females whose families could afford it, we see photos of young girls and women of all ages holding a book (though in some instances it was a bible and was meant to indicate piety). Certainly this was not always a pretension, but what intrigued and amused me here is that I had never seen it employed in a photo of someone so young, so I imagined the following explanation by her fond parents:

"Yes, our little Myrtle was never one for toys, even as a baby. She began reading at 5 months and by the time this photograph was taken it was not the normal doll or toy animal for her, no, she lugged her usual hefty tome along to the studio. No, I don't remember what she was reading, but we should have warned the photographer; he really didn't understand the situation, so when he decided to take the book away from her to get a more conventional childlike pose, she bit him! No, she actually bit him on the hand! She was really a very sweet child but you would never want to come between her and her book. It was unfortunate. The atmosphere was somewhat testy after that, so this was the only photo we got that day. It's not a bad likeness though; she always was a serious child."

Absurd, of course. No one will know why she had the book or why the photographer thought she should be holding something. Maybe she really was a difficult child. It's one for the collection though, don't you think?

Taken by T. A. Dunlap, Bloomfield, Iowa. The tiny bookworm is Myrtle Abernathy.

Article originally appeared on Antique Photography & Photo Collecting (http://timebinder.net/).
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