This is my friend Ellen and her mom, Lynne. I've written about Ellen before here. She throws great parties and serves fancy fizzy drinks in vintage glassware passed down by Lynne. Once, at a patio party, I was minding my own business when apropos of nothing, Ellen hollered in my ear, "Mint green soup bowls!"
Ellen tosses out non-sequiturs faster than Yogi Berra behind home plate, but I've learned that her random thoughts are usually brilliant and merit a follow-up. In this case, Ellen was talking about some antique Limoges china that had been in her family for one hundred years. She thought I would like to see it.
So off I went with Ellen to Lynne's house to see these non-sequitur mint green soup bowls (photo above). They're lovely, manufactured by Haviland in France, of a fine thin porcelain with a hand-painted gold monogram. They were presented to Lynne's grandmother, Gladys, on the occasion of Gladys's high school graduation in 1908. Gladys held a graduation luncheon for her friends and served tomato bisque with a dollop of sour cream in the bowls. Of course I was charmed.
Then, as we passed through Lynne's living room, I glanced at an old photograph on the wall. "Who's that?" I asked. "Oh, that's Gladys on a picnic," said Lynne. And I got goose bumps.
The candid nature of the old photograph really struck me. This was not your usual stiffly posed starched collar portrait more common for that era. A misty day, and two women make a fire and spread a little picnic as their rowboat awaits.
And who was the photographer? Lynne didn't know. Perhaps Gladys's father? There were no mass-marketed cameras in 1908. This was taken with a view camera and since there were no meters either, the photographer had to know his craft well enough to time his exposure correctly. Maybe he used a flash. Maybe he left the shutter open and Gladys and friend stayed very still.
I turned to Lynne. "How would you like to recreate that photograph with Ellen?" I asked. "That sounds delightful," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "Can we use the soup bowls?" I asked. "I suppose we better!" said Lynne.
So I scouted a lakeside location. We packed the mint green soup bowls in bubblewrap. Lynne played the part of her grandmother, Gladys, who by the way, changed the spelling of her name to Gladyce when she came of age. So stylish! And Ellen played the part of "unknown friend in a gunny sack dress."
And not to disparage their ancestors, but I think both Ellen and Lynne look much sexier than the Edwardian ladies, don't you agree?
Renn, my most talented photographer, colorized the redux photo using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. She added pink and blue to the sky, green to the trees, and brown to the wood, the shawl, and the sand. The antique photo was painted by hand using a watercolor wash on a brush. You can see the brushstrokes in Lynne's photo if you look with a magnifier. The photographer had to be careful not to add too much stain or the original would be blotted out.
Lynne is wearing a blouse with a photo of a lake to be photographed at the lake. It's quite meta and hip too. But of course she is the granddaughter of Gladyce, spelled with a 'c'.
And look at Lynne. With her jaw set and her gaze clear, she exudes confidence and dignity. She is regal. And indisputably beautiful.
I so appreciated Lynne's willingness to experiment with me. And while Lynne and Ellen will enjoy the mother-daughter photo, what I hope they most treasure was the afternoon on the beach. Ellen's joy was infectious and we had so much fun, sipping wine and fooling around with silly poses.
Nowadays, people take so many photos, it's almost a form of talking. Photos are cheap throwaways, impermanent even, and rarely worth printing anymore. But I've ordered a print of the 2017 version of the picnic for both Lynne and Ellen.
Since this photo shoot, Lynne has become a widow. Her life is very different now. When she receives this print, I wonder what she will think of that day. Will she remember that her husband waited for her at home? Will she mentally colorize the photo with the memory of her married self?
I took the title of this post from Sally Mann's excellent photographic memoir, "Hold Still." On the significance of photography and its impact on memory, Mann writes this:
As far back as 1901, Emile Zola telegraphed the threat of this relatively new medium, remarking that you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it. What Zola perhaps also knew, or intuited, was that once photographed, whatever you had "really seen" would never be seen by the eye of memory again... Photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories."
Photos by Renn Kuhnen.
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