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I think this is one of the most interesting and mysterious photographs I own. It is so full of questions that I never tire of looking at it.

It is a remarkably relaxed studio photograph for the time. The petit young woman is obviously perched on the man’s knee, her hands clasped on her own knee, only a slightly bemused expression on her face – not really looking at the camera. The suavely dressed gentleman looks directly at the photographer with not the faintest concern about striking a pose, a cigarette between his fingers, one foot poking far forward from beneath her skirt. One almost has the feeling that this couple knows the cameraman intimately and that the photo has been taken in the course of a genial visit.

This surmise is further strengthened by the presence of the dog who – far from being posed as a part of the portrait – has his head under the chair, the least interesting half of him exposed. Yet this doesn’t spoil the photo for the couple or the photographer – it has been printed and mounted on a cabinet card nonetheless; perhaps they liked it all the more because of it!

But we can’t let it go at that!

Are they engaged or married, or perhaps nothing of the sort? This is not the kind of photograph you would have taken formally for public consumption; there is something a bit bohemian about it. There is nothing overtly coquettish about her demeanor – except for sitting on his knee, she seems quite proper and sweet, not particularly concerned about how this may look. At the time, in most circles, this would be more than a little scandalous when most photos of couples merely stand or sit next to one another, and occasionally one has a hand sedately, if possessively, on the arm or shoulder of the other.

These two are very nicely but not ostentatiously dressed, she in a stylish heavy wool skirted suit, he in suit and vest – common day wear. They are an extremely handsome pair by any standards. What was their position in the community, assuming they lived in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia where it was shot by Spencer Bros. studio? There is nothing uptight about these two – and you do get a sense that perhaps they enjoyed this photo as much as we do today.

Who preserved this photo for a century? I have a few hundred other questions that it is useless to ask.


Reader Comments (3)

I think you enjoy looking at it because the youg woman is so very attractive!

May 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterE. S. Sydnor

My question is: She looks like she is sitting on air. She doesn't seem to be sitting on anything visible. Definitely not the gentleman's knee.
It almost looks like two photos were somehow put together.
As to the dog, that's anyone's guess.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate

The position of the woman was something I noticed immediately, and you are not the first person to also comment on it before Timebinder came online. In the digital age we are sure that whatever doesn't make sense has been altered in some way. Be assured that no altered image will ever be posted on Timebinder because I know an antique image when I see one and no one can successfully alter an image without my detecting it at the pixel level. This is an original period print from the negative and was mounted on a cabinet panel at the time; it is no fake.

We have had fun trying to figure out how it can look that way; if the man has his leg cocked in such a way that she could perch on his knee with one toe on the floor for balance long enough to take the picture, or if there is indeed some sort of stool she is sitting on that is completely hidden (I don't see how); I have even wondered if the wicker chair could have a writer's arm on it, but it just doesn't appear to be in the proper position nor does the chair seem sturdy enough for that to be the case.

I would entertain any other ideas of what is going on here; everything about it is mysterious and I think they were having fun (but the technology of the times would not have made it possible to alter – and why would they have tried?)

June 11, 2009 | Registered CommenterTimebinder

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