What's In a Photograph?

Posted on 01/05/2012 by Lance Roper in What's In a Photograph?

The famous Berenice Abbott once said, “Photography helps people to see.” 

There’s much to say about that quote, but we’d like to focus on how historical photographs actually allow us to see the past. As time goes on, our memories easily become dependent on the photographs we take – and without them, those memories can easily fade away. But what do we think about photographs that aren’t directly connected to our memories? What purpose do they serve and what do they allow us to see? What understanding is to be gained from seeing life as it was before our time? In an attempt to answer those questions, we’d like to introduce you to our newest blog series, called “What’s In a Photograph?”

Every week, we plan to display a historic photograph on our blog along with some words on what we’ve observed or learned from the picture. We’re not really sure where these thoughts will lead, but we can be certain that these photos will help us see things that we would otherwise have a hard time seeing.

We invite you join us in sharing what you see in the comment box below. We look forward to discussing these photographs with you!

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

This picture makes me think of the unchanging work that farming involves. For centuries, the basic tools of farming were the same: animals, simple wagons, a couple of primitive hand tools, and a lot of hard work by the farmers. This didn’t change from the time of the invention of the wheel until the latter part of the last century, when gas engines and other automation finally reached deep into rural America. But in this photo, from around 1940, you see things as they were for most of the country’s history. And if you’ve ever tried to keep your balance on a wagon being pulled (or driven) over a field, you know how hard that is, not to mention actually spreading the fertilizer as you go. This picture is in the living memory of almost everyone who grew up in the country before 1960 or so.

-Fritz Byers

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.