Saturday, October 1, 2011

Family Photography

Oh, the joys of coaxing wriggling children, intent on play, to cooperate with a camera man whose skills seem to be deployed through a time warp. I wonder what photographers in former eras told their subjects. “Smile for the camera” hardly seems possible, given the appearance of these youngsters—and their patiently-posing parents.

From the collection of Edna Tully McCaughey, three candid shots in informal settings seem revealing of the subjects’ personalities. None of these pictures is directly identified, but some are labeled with comments that provide hints.

Three young children, in a home setting in this dim shot, provide looks that can tell a tale. The two boys—one appearing to almost slip off the set—have a resigned air, while their little sister, for whom the tea time theme seems enchanting, has a wide-eyed anticipation.

The only hint I have to provide identity for this picture is a handwritten note scrawled large across the back: “Helen Tully.” Unfortunately, I have no record of any Helens married into our Tully line in Chicago. Nor can I find much online as to vital records, with the exception of this death certificate bearing the threads of a sad story. Yet, I can’t even find further records on this Helen Tully or who her husband might be.

Another dim but candid shot in this collection is labeled “Nana in deeply religious environment—our parlor.” The note is most likely provided by the collection’s owner, Edna Tully McCaughey, but whether she is referring to her own grandmother, or explaining to her children via this label that this is their grandmother is not clear. In younger years in her diary, Edna referred to her own grandmother as Grandma, not Nana. The possibility that this was a portrait of Edna’s paternal grandmother is slim, as WilliamTully’s mother probably passed away near his birthplace in Ontario, Canada. This may just have to be an answer that can only be provided by the family’s direct descendants.

The last photograph, posed and yet inevitably also candid, is a family portrait. Of course, whose family this is has been left to the viewer’s conjecture. My guess is that it is a gathering of the Sullivan descendants: Mary Ann’s daughters Sarah and Ellen Swanton, and the Ryan daughters, Mary and Johanna. The man in the center of the back row looks vaguely familiar, though none of the children in the forefront seem to match pictures of the younger Tully sisters in the “Cousins” photo. And yet, without photographic imprints and lacking knowledge of fashion’s time periods, I’m hard pressed to be assured that my guess is representative of the correct time period for that generation.

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