History Hoydens

Example

Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 April 2009

Glimpses of the past

I have a thing for old photographs. I have piles and piles of them from my own family (including the fabulous ones of my great-great-aunt and uncle who were trapeze artists for Barnum and Bailey). But I love random ones too. There’s something about the faces and scenes that inspires me, intrigues me, makes me want to know more (even if I have to make it up).

One of my favorite sites for this kind of thing is Shorpy. It’s an amazing collection of vintage photographs, scanned in at VERY high resolution. I think my all-time favorite pic on the site is the one shown here, Women auto racers. Miss Elinor Blevins, c. 1915. Check out that smile. The mud-splattered spats. The fur gloves and the wonderfully dented racer. This is a woman I want to know more about. A woman I want to write about. A woman I wish I could have actually known! She’s certainly inspiration for a heroine (even if mine might have to drive a curricle and four instead of that fabulous automobile). When authors say that everything feeds the writing, this is what we’re talking about.

How about you? Any photos out there (of your own family or of random strangers) that inspire you? (p.s. if you don’t have one, check out Gallahad, 1911 in Shorpy’s Handsome Rakes gallery).



12 Comments:

Blogger Mary Blayney said...

What a fun website -- and a post that makes me think about your question. More later.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Victoria Janssen said...

Sometimes I get a better feel for the past from photos and silent film than I do from books. I often resort to those sources when I'm feeling stuck.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

including the fabulous ones of my great-great-aunt and uncle who were trapeze artists for Barnum and Bailey

You just drop this in, casually -- after all our posts about our own illustrious ancestors!?

Great post, Kalen. And I love that photo. It reminds me of the press photo from the 1920s of my aunt Debby the flapper/Ziegfeld girl coyly posing in the cloak that belonged to the family of Francis Scott Key, with the caption that she's a descendant of his.

I never heard of Shorpy before, but I'll be sure to check them out. I love poring over old photos and imagining people's lives (and personalities) from them.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Kate and Geo Wilson. I'll have to scan the pics and use them for a post. I have the "formal" shot of them in costume that was used for their poster (c. 1906) and one of them practicing (c.1909), which I really love. I wish I could track down the actual poster. Wouldn’t that be cool?

12:06 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a fun post, Kalen! I love old photographs, but I don't tend to think of them as research because I've always written in eras that long predate photography. They're a fabulous way to get a feel for an earlier era, though. As a child I collected old movie stills (I still have albums full of them). I started with a collection my mom had, sent to her by an aunt who was a secretary at Columbia Pictures, and then added with visits to shops the specialized in movie stills. And I have some wonderful pictures of my great-aunt who was in vaudeville in the 20s and 30s. As I mentioned in a blog a bit ago, recently watching "Mad Men," I was struck by how the clothes and hair styles looked like pictures of my parents when they were dating and first married in the early 60s (they looked very different from the way I remember then in the 70s).

1:08 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I love old photographs, but I don't tend to think of them as research because I've always written in eras that long predate photography.

Me too, but I find all kinds of stuff from other eras inspiring. It's the adjustment back in time to make it suit my era of choice that makes it fun.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

"It's the adjustment back in time to make it suit my era of choice that makes it fun."

That's a very cool way of thinking of it! I do find Edwardian era country house pictures inspiring come to think of it.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

You just drop this in, casually -- after all our posts about our own illustrious ancestors!?

What Amanda said. Trapeze artists! Wow!

3:07 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Trapeze artists? How cool is that! I wish you could find the poster. What a great piece of family history to have. I think I first realized how powerful the prejudice was that forced my mother, her siblings and her mother to deny their Native American heritage when I saw an old black and white photograph of my great grandfather. He is counted on one census as a "red indian cherokee" with a "creek squaw" and ten years later, after my great grandmother had died he is listed as "white male" with wife and six children. When I saw this photograph I laughed out loud that any census taker could be so foolish as to believe this man was white! But my great grandfather did it because he didn't want his white wife and their children to suffer what his first wife and (eleven) children had suffered. When my great grandmother died he left those eleven children with their Creek relatives and moved to the next county to start over as a white man. But that photograph cannot be denied. Too bad he felt he had to.

And my second book was completely inspired by an old photograph of a tree-lined drive in Dunwich England that disappeared into the fog. Beyond the fog was a stately home that eventually fell off into the sea. My second book starts in that home that I can't see just beyond the fog.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

Cool post, Kalen. Checked out Shorpy's and looked at a vintage photo of uniformed traffic cop (female)...she had a belt around about a 14 inch waist and she's wearing pointed-toe, knee high, high heeled boots on---standing out there in the middle of the street directing traffic.

Killer outfit!

Football dude looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch guy. ;-)

Please, post the photos of your trapeze artist granparents. Fascinating!

11:01 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Are any of you familiar with the photographs of Jacques-Henri Lartigue? As a little boy in upper-class Belle Epoque Paris, he snapped photographs of whatever thrilled or excited him, and gave us some the most playful, poetic, and elegant images of that era that we have.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Evangeline said...

I love the Lartigue photograph of the chic Parisienne walking her two dogs. It's composed just as vividly as a Helleu sketch.

And thanks for the Shorpy link Kalen. That G-town football player gives me a ton of ideas! Which, incidentally, is the point of this post. *g* My hard drive is littered with photographs I've saved from the internet because sometimes, the written word doesn't convey a historical detail as well as a photograph does.

5:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Site Counter
Kennedy Western University Online