Obverse and reverse

• My first thought was: Wow, in singlet at the dinner table? Well, they have sunken this far…

• Sunken? On the contrary, the faces and the whole company are much warmer, more human, more relaxed. On the other picture, how much constraint and anxiety! And how much progress in women’s equality: their glasses are the same size as those of the men! :)

• Ah, when photography still had its honor :) Although hell knows whether it was good when everyone had cramp from the photo machine… It is a solemn time machine, either they thought about this or not, but its purpose was to send a message into the future, to other generations. A care-taking of the family tree, so that that tree would stand for centuries. I chewed the ear of the family for a year to go ALL of us to the photographer. And lo, grandma was missing from it, because “it would have been complicated to resolve it five minutes before closing time”. Well, I say that family photo has no honor any more… These “come, buddy, take a photo of me stuffing my face with sausage or beer”, these snapshots speak about the moment to me. They are made not so much for the future viewers of it, but for the characters in it. Of course they will also become valuable, once they survive… But this is also another false construction, because Ansel also said that in a picture always there are two characters: the photographer and the viewer… No doubt, the second photo is much more intimate… we also rollick like this, in underwear, when we are together, the children doing their piggery, and we speaking with full mouth… and in the meantime we sometimes take pictures of each other, with mobile phones or else. The only question is whether we want to become perceived in the future like this, and whether we attribute to these pictures such a value that we would give them a chance of survival when we are no longer…

• The Singlet family apparently has a more relaxed relationship to the question of self-representation than the Soldier family, and I do not think they would discard this photo from the ones kept for the posterity. And if they leave it in the family album, they do it absolutely well, it has its place there.

• Yes, this is also an important question, whether we compare the right pictures with each other, two ones which were equally considered as family photos by the characters, or rather a family photo with a relaxed occasional shot, for an illustration of the erosion of culture. And in fact we should have looked for such photo about the second company, like the following one here below. Or an even more formal one, but this already illustrates the difference. And conversely, the private album of Tsar Nicholas II also has some foolish military school photos, which we now look quite bewildered at.

Po lowland, early 20th century, from here

„…all we are men…” Nicholas II. and friends

• Perhaps we should take into account the spontaneity made possible by the technological advances (more sensitive film, smaller camera, etc)
and the wider use made possible by its getting cheaper (even an amateur of small means can possess a camera)
and the different (broader spectrum) posturing due to the more everyday character of the situation of photographing.
Conversely: my great-grandparents with their children in 1929 – an eight-children worker’s family in Budapest, the father is a sailor and then a shipyard worker:

• Are they really New Year’s Eve dinners both? Because the singlets suggest otherwise, and the little guy even is top naked. Or were the flats so well heated in the 1930s?
Grimpix is right, on the first one they sit cramped and stiff, just like my grandparents when being photographed. They brought the chairs out of the house, and, sitting in two rows, they sent a serious message to Cronus. They did not play, did not grimace, did not show any originality in front of the camera. The hierarchy of the world worked well, like on the photo of the chinovnik/lower middle class family’s photo: under God, the Tsar, and under him, we. An enviable order
And on the other picture, the modernity. It recalls me the phrase of Ortega y Gasset: “we live under the brutal rule of the masses”. You would desire a bit of aristocratism, exclusivity, but you see the happy dumbness of the kommunalka instead, although, judging from the furnishing, it is no co-tenancy…

• At New Year’s Eve they could heat up well in the dacha: wood is cheap, the iron stove cannot be regulated, so let us put on it as much as we can, it will burn out soon anyway.

• If only for the Kulechov Effect, we should say that the sequence of the images changes the feeling : in the second proposition, people on the oldest photo look really sad and depressed (as if they were attending a funeral meal) though on the first they just seemed serious and concerned, certainly praying. I am not sure the more recent picture changes so much.
There are certainly two worlds in these images even if the tea, the cakes and the alcohol are on both tables. More than the way people are dressed or undressed, more than the naked wall opposed to the full enhanced one, more than the darkness or the light, what strikes me is the new distance offered by the possession of one’s camera: you pass from an external and cold (maybe historical) observation to an empathic one, from the inside. What the most recent one lacks — that you can find in the oldest one, details, precision, strangeness too and strength and a fine sensation of quiet awaiting in a pending time — is balanced by the cheerful looks and the warmth of the faces. Not only distant in years but maybe also in places: Northern Russia against Southern?
Anyway, you could write good stories about both pictures.

• I am invited into one of the pictures; in the other I am just a spectator. It has to do, I think, with the relationship of the photographer to the event in the photographs.

One picture, made with bright daylight streaming in from the upper left, is rigid and formal, and even has a certain air of unhappiness about it. It is possible that a photographer has been invited in on the occasion to make a family portrait. He arranges the subjects, clears the space from the nearest end of the table, in order to give the heavy tripod-mouted box camera a clear view of all the faces. “Hold still,” he says, so that the slow photograpic plate could capture the image with sharpness. The small child on the right seems to have shifted slightly during the exposure; his face is a bit blurred.

In the other, the photographer seems to be a guest at the party. He happens to have a camera. “I’m going to take a picture,” he says, and everybody looks toward him; some move around the table to get into the frame. He uses an amateur camera and only the available light, a ceiling lamp that makes the shadows under brows, noses, and chins look dark and heavy. Still, we take the photographer’s place when we look at the image. We are part of the proceedings, an invited guest -- not a clinical or professionally detached observer.

There is a historical progression in the images. The story in the first pairing is says, “That was then, this is now.” The second is more like, “Here we are, remember how we used to be?” Something could easily be read into the changes in social standing that (if we think in narrative terms) “took place” between the two images. The unhappy ones are wealthy, the less weathly here are a bit happier. Some might say material decline is an opportunity for moral advance; but we know it doesn’t always work out that way. Regardless, I know which party I’d rather attend!

• Anything else, anyone?

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