Worth 1,000 words and sometimes a smile

I always enjoy working with the photography collection, and finding an unusual or unexpected image tends to make my day. The sentiment of the majority of portraits from the late 19th and early 20th centuries could lead you to believe that very few people had fun in those days. With scant smiles and rigid posture, how could they? So, here are some examples from the BHS photo collection to prove that notion wrong.
Take this portrait of an alumni association known as the Old First Class of Wilson Street School (now P.S. 16 in Williamsburg). At quick glance, it’s just a group of middle-aged men wearing three piece suits.
Old First Class of Wilson Street School Group Photograph

Group Photograph, 1902; Old First Class of Wilson Street School records, ARC.107, Box 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

But look closer on the left side of the photo, and you’ll see two students sneaking in on the action. The posts of the fence frame them like prisoners behind bars, and adds a probably unintentional but humorous touch.

Old First Class of Wilson Street School Group Photograph (crop)

Group Photograph, 1902; Old First Class of Wilson Street School records, ARC.107, Box 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Many studio portraits show an individual or families posing seriously and keeping still for the camera. Perhaps Ernestine Aschner, a young resident of Brooklyn Heights, considered Toby the Dog just another member of her family. Or perhaps she saw the strange and funny potential of Toby in the arms of an ambivalent doll.

Cabinet card of Ernestine Aschner's pug dog "Toby", circa 1890; Fred Hoyt family research collection, ARC.043; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Cabinet card of Ernestine Aschner's pug dog "Toby", circa late 19th century; Fred Hoyt family research collection, ARC.043; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Despite their historical importance, photographs are not always treated as revered artifacts. The members of the Parkside Pals Club look quite dapper in this group portrait, but did they know an enemy, armed with an ink pen and a variety of mustache styles, lay in wait?

Group portrait of the Parkside Pals Club, circa 1915; Parkside Pals Club photographs, V1991.068; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Group portrait of the Parkside Pals Club, circa 1915; Parkside Pals Club photographs, V1991.068; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Harry Kalmus, a Brooklyn photographer in the 1940s and 1950s, took a few refreshing candids between weddings and bar mitzvahs, like this off-center self portrait.

Harry Kalmus self-portrait, circa 1940s; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Harry Kalmus self-portrait, circa 1940s; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

And this last photo of Mr. Kalmus puts a new twist on the old meme: pictures of people (or dogs) taking pictures.

Harry Kalmus and dog, circa 1950s; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Harry Kalmus and dog, circa 1950s; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

About Weatherly

I'm an Archives Survey Technician working on the CLIR project at BHS.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Worth 1,000 words and sometimes a smile

  1. Frana Kalmus Baruch says:

    That is our dog Sugar (He loved that dog and he loved his cameras!).. He liked to put his camera’s on a timer (while the camera was on a tripod) and jump into the picture…
    Sugar was a miniature poodle who lived for 17 years – About 1965 to 1982…

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