Thursday, August 26, 2010

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

Well, no longer.  With our oceanside holiday but a fast-receding memory, I have refocused on my life in the City and at Darlington House.  I'm back at home, back at work, and back to writing a number of essays about recent projects and acquisitions, along with other Reggie subjects, which I shall be posting in the coming weeks.  I hope that you, Dear Reader, will find them of interest.

But before leaving the happy memories of the seaside altogether, I thought I'd share this photograph, taken one hundred years ago, of a jolly threesome by the shore.  I bought it more than twenty years ago at a used book store in upstate New York, where I found it while sifting through a shoebox of old photographs for sale.  I think I paid a dollar for it.  There's no identification on it of who these lads were, or where it was taken.  Given where I found it, I'm assuming they are American, and that their photograph was taken at a popular beach somewhere on the East coast.

I have always wondered, who are these men and how is it they came to be photographed?  Was it taken by a professional, roving photographer who strolled the beach, looking for customers, or was it taken by the fourth of their foursome with a newly available portable camera?  Are they straight, or gay, or a combination?  What accounts for their wildly differing physiques?  Whose umbrella is that?

These are such questions that one often ponders when studying photographs of unidentified people taken long ago.  One blogger who posts such pictures regularly, and whom I read regularly, is JCB.  I encourage you to look at her charming blog if you haven't already.  The photographs she posts, both old and new, are lovely and thought-provoking.

I believe my photograph is of three friends, enjoying each other's company at an outing at the beach.  Two of them appear to be athletes, or laborers, given their muscular physiques, while one is clearly a stranger to strenuous exercise.  I suspect the two fit ones are athletes as opposed to laborers.  Who knows if they are gay or straight?  I could talk my way into either conclusion.  The fact that one of them playfully holds a black silk umbrella argues that the photograph was taken by a fourth, more fully-dressed person who made up their foursome.  For I suspect the umbrella belongs to the photographer, whose hands would have been occupied by the task of taking the photograph.  And unless the person taking it was the wife of one of the subjects, it is unlikely that the photographer was a she, since it would been considered inappropriate at that time for a single woman to be unchaperoned under such circumstances.  Whatever the story may have been, this is a charming photograph of three young men enjoying themselves, and having a lovely time.  It is a favorite of mine.

Over the years I have collected several hundred old photographs of unknown sitters, unrelated to me.  I seek out photographs in which the subjects are interesting looking, or good looking, or have unusual or remarkable features, such as in the cabinet photographs I featured in my recent post on mustache cups.  I also look for ones, like this, where the subjects just might be gay, like I am.  While I have plenty of photographs of my actual ancestors, none of them--to the best of my knowledge--were gay.  If the men in this photograph were, then they are ancestors of mine of a different sort from those with whom I share an actual bloodline.

Tell me, do you collect old photographs of people long gone?  And, if so, why?


  1. I have a few that i've collected over the years, mainly because I thought the people looked interesting ( or attractive ). I always love digging through photographs at antique stores -you never know what you may find.
    My vote -they're gay....very gay. And I like that.

  2. Dear Reggie ~ this is a MARVELOUS image. I love it!!! What a find (and what a story...I can just imagine it). I started collecting old snapshots and portraits because, like you, I think their faces tell a story. Sometimes it makes me sad to think of these abandoned ancestors, and I just have to bring them home.

    Thank you for your kinds words! I appreciate the link. Cheers!

  3. Whether or not they're gay, they definitely were "gay" - I think that is the appeal of this photo: their obvious joy in the moment. There is something compelling about the photograph - I like it too. I do not as a rule collect old photographs (unless they are of relatives) but I find them captivating.

  4. Sort of social archeology. Wonderful photo.

  5. 1) Identical suits -- probably rentals.

    2) The guy on the left is wearing what might be a school ring on his right hand.

    3) All three have decent haircuts for the time, which I would put between 1900 and 1910 -- see the woman on the far left and the mustache on the man on the far right.)

    4) No clue about their sexuality. I don't think it's a reasonable assumption that any of them are laborers. They could be twenty year-old athletes. (For some reason, people in old photographs often seem older than they really were.)

    5) If it's a Princeton ring, Reggie may have stumbled upon a priceless relic of the first episode ever of Jersey Shore.

  6. MD used to say that Grandfather Darling's sister, Nanette, was a lesbian. However, she didn't have any proof other than spinsterhood, as far as I know, and that could have been a result of the shortage of men after the Great War.

  7. Great find. The physiques on the guys on the left and in the middle are very healthy; they probably were rugby players. All three chaps sport proper short haircuts with moderate sideburns, which as always is a positive sign.

  8. Yes sir, I do collect old photos. Started with photos of dead people, then I went to American slaves, mostly women. Crazy for the image of African American portraits both men and women. Love Victorian greenhouses, caves, and southern swamps. Also I have men with men, some very early some not so. I love them. They are proof of my blood line as spoken earlier. If you will kindly look at my American Ghosts post will will see my latest passion or sickness, and that depends on who you talk to. Thanks for getting me excited. Reggie, you are the best!

  9. Ancient: Good catch on the suits, you may well be right. I agree, this was taken in the first decade of the 20th century, I think around 1907, given the woman's dress and hair. I also agree, these are not laborers but rather athletes -- I posited the possibility more for their physiques than anything else.

    Sister: Ah, yes, the unspoken of great aunt. I forgot about her because she was hardly ever referred to, and never positively. I believe she lived in Paris with a "woman friend" and was rather mannish, and died long before I came along.

    LBP: Agreed. They look like rugby/American football playing, educated men.

    HFK: I must check out your American Ghosts post, and look forward to seeing it. Thanks!

  10. Okay, I'll play:

    First, the venue looks more Atlantic City or Far Rockaway than Bailey's Beach or Maidstone Club

    Second, "Does this parasol I'm holding make me look too Gay?"

    I'd say just three college chums yukking it up on a summer weekend---maybe all on the football team....and straight as arrows.

  11. DED: I was thinking Coney Island, or maybe the Connecticut shore somewhere. Neither Bailey's nor East Hampton entered my mind...I think the skinny one might be the team's towel boy, or business manager.

  12. Maybe they are frat boys on vacation at the shore, and the skinny one is the frat's resident egghead. Every fraternity has to have a brainiac who pulls the GPA up for the rest of the party animals.

  13. I do! I love collecting old photos, and also love to figure out their stories. I found this treasure trove in Portland of photographs from Indochine pre-Vietnam war. There is one I especially cherish of a well-to-do family in front of there Southeast Asian villa with a Rolls Royce. The one character that jumps out at me is the son (?) who is very dapper in a white button down, jodphurs, and knee high polo boot with the best pair of sunglasses. I figure they worked with in the French government, and the son ended up moving to Paris to go to the Sorbonne just in the nick of time.

  14. I do collect-why of course, it is something else to collect and little room required to store it in.likely the same reason Janet states-they are lost memories looking for a new soul. subjects with dogs-they always look happiest with their pets/animals, scenic photographs/ women well dressed/ people on holiday-All sorts. These 3 are attracting attention-there are 2 people in the background looking at the scene. the chap on left is obviously eyeing someone else.the owner of the parasol-that said-here you must pose with this. whatever they are having a good time and at that moment of joy they could have been green for all they seem to care. this is a wonderful photograph Reggie, darling. thank goodness you have Sister to keep you honest-that is what Sisters do! pgt

  15. I'm with DED- three college friends on a summer lark. And if twirling a parasol makes you gay, well....

    Given the fact that those bathing costumes were probably made of wool as most were in that era, how those three lads kept their merry smiles is the real question for me.

  16. After my husband gave me a copy of "Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together 1840-1818", I started collecting tin types of male couples. And when I had five that 'went together.' I put them in a long 19th century walnut and gilt frame. Some of the couples look like brothers, while others look like a gay couple on their way to the theatre.

    Your trio is a delight.

  17. Reggie,

    They look like the men you described as having once hung out at the bar at 21, in NYC. Only sans the business attire?



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