Pictures of youth

The boy-child, aged 8. Cambridge, England, 2006.

The boy-child, aged 8. Cambridge, England, 2006. Photo: Tony Gray

Years ago in a cafe, my young son and I were sitting near two women who were having a heated discussion. Eventually one leaned over to me and asked if I carried a photo of my son with me. As it happened, I did have a picture of him. The woman looked at her friend triumphantly and said “see, everyone does.”

Aside from the obvious problem of generalizing from a sample of one, my possession of an image on that day was a consequence of my son having just had an particularly flattering passport photo taken. In fact, I didn’t normally carry his picture — I had never thought to cut one up small enough to fit in my wallet.

But it got me thinking about the abundance of photos I DID possess of my son —  and how normal is seems for parents to turn the camera lens on their offspring.

Thomas Alexander Gray, one day old.

The big T with our boy-child; the morning after his birth. Photo: Su Leslie, 1998.

These days, with smart phones and social media, it’s only a matter of personal taste how quickly after (or during) birth, photos of our children can be spread around the globe. Seventeen years ago, when the boy-child came into the world, the Big T did have his camera at the birth, and we have several slightly out of focus shots of me in the delivery suite holding our newborn. But in those pre-digital, pre-FaceBook days, the photos were taken on film, and weren’t available for anyone to see until all 24 shots on the roll of film had been exposed and developed. As both sets of grandparents lived in other countries, it would have been at least a week or more until they saw images of their new grandchild.

A generation earlier, when the boy-child’s grandparents were becoming parents, the processes of capturing and sharing images of their children would have taken even longer. For a start, although both my father and father in law were keen photographers, neither were present at the births of their children. The earliest photos of me that I’m aware of were taken at my christening.

su in christening gown mod

Christening, November 1961. Photo: Ron Leslie, Leslie family archive.

Go back another generation, and camera ownership was less widespread. We are fortunate to have photos of both my parents as children.

Margaret Ramsay (nee Cruden) and daughters at the beach, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c 1941. Photo: Leslie Ramsay archive.

Margaret Ramsay (nee Cruden) and daughters at the beach, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c 1941. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

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Fragment of a photo: Ron and David Leslie. Beach on Fife coast, Scotland. c. 1934-36 Photo: Leslie family archive.

Although the Box Brownie (1) was first released in 1900 — revolutionizing photography by making it affordable to ordinary people  — amateur photos don’t appear before the 1920s in either the Big T’s or my family (2),  making our parents’ generation the first whose childhood was captured by enthusiastic family members, rather than professional photographers.

James and George Cruden (back row), with their niece and nephew; David and May Ramsay. Photo probably take in Dysart, Scotland, c. early 1930s. From Ramsay family archive.

Little rascals? James and George Cruden (back row), with their niece and nephew; David and May Ramsay. c. early 1930s. Milton of Balgonie, Fife, Scotland, . Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

By contrast, I have a collection of studio portraits of my grandmother Margaret Cruden, and her younger brother Stewart, as small children.

Stewart and Margaret Cruden, c. 1911. Studio portrait, probably Fife, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Stewart and Margaret Cruden, c. 1911. Studio portrait, probably Fife, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

I’m not sure why there are so many portraits of my grandmother. She and her brother Stewart were the eldest children of Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black. On my grandmother’s birth certificate, her father’s occupation is shown as coal miner, and it’s unlikely the family was particularly wealthy. However, my great grandparents (or possibly their parents) took the children to several different studios for sittings during their early childhood.

Margaret and Stewart Cruden, c. 1910. Studio portrait probably taken in Fife, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Margaret and Stewart Cruden, c. 1910. Studio portrait probably taken in Fife, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Stewart and Margaret Cruden, c. 1914. Studio portrait, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Stewart and Margaret Cruden, c. 1915. Studio portrait, R. Milliken, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Stewart Cameron Cruden, c. 1914. Studio portrait, Colin Campbell Studio, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Stewart Cameron Cruden, c. 1914-15. Studio portrait, Colin Campbell Studio, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

While I love these glimpses into the childhoods of my grandmother and great uncle, the last image saddens me, as all photographs of little boys dressed up as soldiers sadden me. The photo was taken probably during World War I, and I wonder if my great grandfather had already signed up. My great uncle has such a sad, slightly lost expression on his face.

This post was written for Ailsa’s weekly photo theme at Where’s my Backpack. You can see more here.

 

(1) ‘The Most Important Cardboard Box Ever.’ BBC Magazine 5 January 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30530268

(2) With the possible exception of the Dove family, of whom we have a few images thought to be c. 1913-16.

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Ephemeral traces of lives past

Invitation to my great grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party. Image: Ramsay-Leslie family archive.

Invitation to my great grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party. Image: Ramsay-Leslie family archive.

For archivists, ephemeral has a specific meaning. Ephemera refers to a class of documents which are not originally intended to be preserved.  Invitations, postcards, tickets, pamphlets and greeting cards would all fall into this category.

That many of these items are preserved (in collections of ephemera) is due to the fact that they can offer valuable historical insights — and are often incredibly interesting. Who has never rummaged amongst the old postcards in second-hand shop and wondered why Jock and Mary thought Eileen worthy of a postcard from Ostend? Or opened a library book, found a first class British Rail ticket from Stevenage to Edinburgh and wondered about the person who made the trip (actually that was me, going to visit a sick aunt).

Over the last few years, my mother has been sending me photographs and other items that she has treasured over the years. Since I’ve become the family historian, she feels happy to pass them into my care. The invitation above is one of the things she gave me.

My great grandparents, Catherine Black and Alexander Cruden got married as pregnant teenagers (he was 17, she 18). They remained married for 62 years, until my great grandad’s death in 1970. I’ve written about them in the past (Getting a telegram from the Queen, On growing old together), partly because I have quite a lot of information about them, but mainly because they were around when I was a small child and I remember them with enormous affection.

It’s lovely then, to have this little piece of ephemera from their lives. The invitation is addressed to my grandparents David Ramsay and Margaret Cruden.

I also have a couple of photos from the event; one of my great grandparents, the other of my mother and a couple of cousins. These provide not only interesting insights into social customs (cups and saucers at a party — these days I’d expect wine glasses), but are also precious memories of people I love.

My great gran, Catherine Black and her sister Caroline. Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Also in the shot my great grandad, Alexander Cruden and (far left) his brother in law, James Fowler. Photo: Leslie family archive.

Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Left to right James Fowler (husband of my great grandfather’s sister Betsy), my great grandad, Alexander Cruden, my great gran Catherine Black and (far right) her sister Jessie. Photo: Leslie family archive.

Also taken at my great grandparents anniversary party; Elizabeth Leslie (nee Ramsay) with niece Margaret Ladyka and nephew Robert Guthrie. Photo: Leslie-Ramsay family archive.

Also taken at my great grandparents anniversary party; Elizabeth Leslie (nee Ramsay) with niece Margaret Ladyka and nephew Robert Guthrie. Photo: Leslie family archive.

This post was written for the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: ephemeral.

Ephemeral

Weekly photo challenge: another kiss

My younger brother Derek Leslie and his wife Nya Fogden on their wedding day, July 2006.

My younger brother Derek Leslie and his wife Nya Fogden on their wedding day, July 2006.

Carrying on yesterday’s theme; another kiss that contributes to my family history in the making. My youngest brother Derek, married Nya Fogden on 8 July, 2006 at the St Stephen’s Club, London.