What would I do without my mum?

mum sandra and cousin going to movies c 1949

My mum, centre. Go-to person for all family history questions.

When I posted this photo the other day along with some other examples of street photography (Street life: family through the eyes of a stranger), it got some interesting dialogue going with other bloggers about the process by which the photograph – taken by a professional street photographer – got into the hands of the person who is actually in the photograph.

I emailed my mother about it; here is her reply:

The photos were taken by a street photographer. They just  snapped away, gave you a slip of paper and if you wanted them you went to I think the Fife Free Press Offices.  They were very cheap and not too many families had a camera.

My INTJ brain is in overdrive. Did the photographer give out slips of paper to the people as the walked past? Did he (it probably was “he”) have an assistant? What was on the piece of paper? Was it like a flyer with the address for collection and a price? Or more like an order form? Maybe the numbers I found on the back of the photos matched up with the numbers on the slips of paper?

I’m guessing it had to be quite a quick, streamlined system. Looking at my mum with her sister and cousin, they are clearly in a hurry. My mum also said:

We were on our way to the movies to see Dick Barton Special Agent!!! Very big in those days; used to be on the radio every night.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Cynthia, at We’re All Relative noted that my grandmother Susan Elder, didn’t look like she wanted to be photographed, but the shot is here now, so someone bought it. Perhaps once she saw the photo, she actually liked it? It’s interesting that she even took the slip of paper – unless perhaps someone else took it on her behalf (my dad for example)?

Street photography seems a somewhat precarious way to earn a living; it’s a kind of deferred-enjoyment busking. My mum’s comment that the photos were collected from the local newspaper office got me wondering if the street photographer was also the press photographer and either this was a sideline, or it was actually a business run by the local paper as a way of making more money and utilising a resource (the photographer) who wouldn’t always be needed for “news” photography? Hm, the INTJ marketing brain’s in action now!

Not street photography, but photography on the street

A couple of weeks ago I found a photo of me on holiday in Rothesay, Scotland (Six Word Saturday: toddler on the run in Rothesay). I was about two at the time and in the photo I’m toddling away from my dad – whose legs are in the shot.

On the back of the photo was a name of someone I’d never heard of –  Mrs C Galbraith, and an address in Renfrewshire which was unfamiliar also.

My mum says that Mrs Galbraith was another guest in the hotel my family was staying in, and that she had an older daughter who used to play with me.

Mum also reminded me of two other photos taken during that holiday, both of which I remember seeing, but I’m not sure I have copies of. From memory, one shows me – clearly distressed – being held by an older child, while the other is a group shot of children outside the hotel. I’m not sure if I’m in that photo.

Now all I have to do is find them!!!

Me and my dad's legs; Rothesay Bay, Scotland, probably summer 1963.

Me and my dad’s legs; Rothesay Bay, Scotland, probably summer 1963. Photo by another guest in our hotel.





Weekly Photo Challenge: fleeting. Family photos in context

Fleeting moment: my great grandfather, Alexander Cruden captured by an unknown photographer.

A fleeting moment: my great grandfather, Alexander Cruden captured by an unknown photographer.

“Fleeting” seems an entirely appropriate term for the photo above. I believe that it was taken on Kirkcaldy High Street – although I don’t know when. It was probably taken by a professional street photographer as the original has a number on the back, but there is no studio name or other identifying mark.

I have three such photos; this one, another of my paternal grandmother and the third of my 2 x great grandmother (Alexander Cruden’s mother) with her younger son Stewart. I think I’ve also seen one of my mother as a young teenager, but I’m not totally sure about this.

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

By its nature, all photography is fleeting; capturing only a fraction of a second out of a whole lifetime. But while an image is fleeting, its context may not be. The relationship between photographer and subject can be transitory – or incredibly complex. At one end of the continuum is street photography – where the subject is unknown to the photographer and the relationship between them lasts the duration of the shot, plus the time it takes to effect any transaction that might take place if those shots are printed “on spec” in the hope that subjects will buy the print (a phenomenon these days confined to tourist attractions, graduation ceremonies and school balls).

My mother and her siblings. L-R: Margaret, Elizabeth (mum), May, Sandra, David, Catherine.

My mother and her siblings. L-R: Margaret, Elizabeth (mum), May, Sandra, David, Catherine.

But as private camera ownership has grown – to the extent that millions of us have mobile phones with built-in cameras that allow us to capture images of those around us at any time – the relationship between photographer and subject becomes more complex.

As children, my parents only had pictures taken if the family went to a professional photographic studio, happened to be captured by a street photographer, or if an older sibling or cousin saved up for a Box Brownie.

My father was a keen photographer in his youth. This is one of many portraits he took of my mother.

One of many portraits my father took of my mother.

In his youth my father was an enthusiastic photographer. This meant that when he first became a father – to me – he took lots of pictures, and my babyhood is recorded in large numbers of prints and 35mm slides. By the time my youngest brother came along, although photography had become cheaper, my father had lost his enthusiasm, and subsequently there are fewer photos of Derek as a child.

My own son has been photographed thousands of times by doting parents and grandparents. The earliest images are of a tiny wrinkled bundle barely an hour old. Pictures of his first days, weeks and months of life fill several albums and boxes. These days, I snap him in airport lounges and cafes – pretty much the only times we’re together with nothing better to do than play with our phones.

Whatever the setting or timing of the photos I take of my child, they are always informed by the incredibly powerful, complex relationship I have with him. I want to capture him in ways he’ll be happy to see – especially as so many photos end up on my blogs or other social media and I’m not the kind of parent who’s saving embarrassing shots for his 21st birthday or to show girlfriends. I guess often I also want to create and share images that I think are beautiful and that do justice to how amazingly gorgeous I believe him to be.

What that means of course, is that there is a form of censorship at work when I photograph my child. It springs from a mother’s love and dictates that even the most candid, apparently fleeting image carries with it a story that is enduring; a story of love and belonging and connection.

This week the Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Fleeting.” Drop on by to find out more.