Saturday, 30 November 2019

1940s Sweater Girl, Reading

This is a WW2 period, candid photograph of a young woman reading. She is reclining on a art deco couch, in front of a bookcase, with a window behind her. Our reader has shifted to her left shoulder forward, and her right shoulder back, so that the light streams in over her right shoulder, illuminating the pages in front of her. Her eyes are fixed on the lower, left-hand page of the book she is reading.



The verso is stamped Velox, a common Kodak brand in the 1940s–50s according to David Rudd Cycleback's Photograph Identification Guide. The clothes that our sweater-girl reader is wearing are consistent with late War-period restrictions: a drab skirt with a hemline just below the knee, and only a few pleats (as described here), with a short, flat knit, light-weight sweater blouse (here).



As Debbie, The Vintage Dancer explains: "The term sweater girl started in the 1940s with movie star icon Lana Turner. She, and other young women, wearing snug fitting sweater tops were seen as both innocent and sexy. The modest coverage of the sweater said 'I am a good girl' while the two sizes too small fit said 'I have breasts!'" While to "be so flaunting with a woman’s natural assents was taboo in good company," even a more modest, but still snug fit (as here) "emphasized the ideal ’40s torso which was a thin waist, full shoulders and soft, natural chest."

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Lillian and I, Reading



This is another photo that breaks my collecting rules, since it features two women reading magazines, rather than books. I bought it because the age and setting of the photo are significant.



The clothing (particularly the high-neck, boned collars) and the hairstyle (a casual and simplified Gibson Girl pompadour) both suggest a date of ca. 1900–1910—which is relatively early for a photograph to be taken is a domestic setting, outside of a studio.



It is likely that the photo was staged, but (like this one) it is possible that the photographer was attempting to capture a typical setting for reading and it is highly likely that the reading material itself was genuine. (Unfortunately, as with the same photo, while it may be possible to identify the particular issue of the magazine below, I have not been able to identify it, and so the date remains a guess.)



By contrast, studio photos almost always appear to be taken with prop-books, books that belonged to the photographer and that are not actually being "read" by the subject of the photos in any meaningful way. (And, being props, it is likely that any magazine used in a studio photograph was as out of date as those found in waiting rooms today, and so they are unreliable guides to dating.)



On the verso of the photograph the two women are identified as "Lillian and I"—it is not clear if Lillian is the woman on the left, or if this is just the conventional grammatical form for the two women. The vendor was from from Hamilton, Ohio, and it seems likely that the photo was taken somewhere nearby.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Lucy Stout, reading in a hammock

In this ca. 1915 black and white Real-Photo Postcard above, a young American woman is reclining on her side, in a beautiful floral hammock. The subject of the photo is identified on the verso as Lucy Stout.



Lucy has been interrupted—genuinely, it seems—while reading. Rather than resting her hand on a book, posing behind a pile of books, or an open book, she holds the book in her hand purposefully: marking her spot with the index finger and thumb of her left hand, while turning pages with her right.



Note that, unlike the reader of the Portland Sunday Telegram in this photo, she has not been interrupted reading the very first page of her book, she is nearly finished it.



The ARTURA stamp box on the verso dates this postcard to 1908–24. The high-neck dress, simple hair-style, and long hair of our reader all point to a date early in this range. However, the vendor was in Shell Knob, which is in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri; the background to the photo looks a lot like some of the scenes Photos of Shell Knob Trails, so it may be that Lucy was a local, or was visiting a local family. If so, this simple and conservative style may not offer any further hints to the dating the photo.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Frequency of Posting

For a variety of reasons it was unusually difficult for me to regularly post new material on this blog throughout much of 2018 and the first half of 2019, and so I have tried to post much more regularly since July of this year. Although new posts were not appearing, I consistently maintained a number of important posts that aggregate information and links to texts etc. But, when new posts are not being added, it does give the blog an abandoned look, and both posts and the blog as a whole become increasingly invisible online.

November is always a particularly busy time for me at Monash, and so it is not terribly surprising that I only managed a single post last month—but it was still pretty annoying, since I had consistently managed three per month since July, and was hoping to maintain that rate until the end of the year at least. In reality, I have never been as consistent as I had been hoping—regularly producing the same number of posts month after month—and it (belatedly, I guess) occurred to wonder just how impossible a task I had set myself to be this consistent. That is, I wondered whether there was a pattern to my posting that reflected how busy I am at different times of the year.



Above is the result of a bit of cut-and-paste and Excel magic: a chart of the frequency of posts, per month, for the eleven years from June 2009 (when I started this blog) to June 2019. The numbers across the bottom are months, from January (1) to December (12). This frequency distribution of posts-per-month is a pretty good match for how busy I am at work—with one post per month on average in May (total of 11) compared to roughly three posts in July (total of 33).

As you can see here, for students the two teaching semesters run from March to May and August to October; but results are not finalised until the end of the exam period and so, for staff, the two teaching semesters run from March to June and August to November. The weeks prior to semester starting are a reasonably busy time for teaching preparation too and, for me, at the start of the year in particular, since I tend to do more teaching in semester one than in semester two (the split is often two-thirds, one-third, from semester one to semester two). The little bumps in late March and October are probably the mid-semester breaks.

And so, what you see above is a reflection of the constant battle between teaching and everything else I do as an academic. I could probably do a similar chart of when I submit essays for publication, and when I get work done in the garden at home, but I suspect the results would be much the same. The conclusion I draw from this is that I shouldn't be surprised when I fail to be absolutely consistent with my posts on this blog and, perhaps, it is a bit foolish to even try to be.

Reading the Portland Sunday Telegram, 1940s

In this late 1940s photograph (another Real-Photo Postcard), a young woman in a floral dress, sitting on a bed in a cabin, is reading the Portland Sunday Telegram.



In my collecting, I have generally tried to avoid images of people reading newspapers, magazines, or browsing photographs, in favour of people reading books; and I have preferred candid or domestic photos to posed or studio photographs. While this image may be staged (the woman is focused on only the first page of the Portland Sunday Telegram, suggesting that the photographer has not caught her deeply engaged in sustained, immersive reading) the setting in emphatically domestic, and it is possible—likely, in fact—that the photographer was attempting to capture a typical instance of sustained, immersive reading, in a familiar or common location for such reading.



The appeal of this image depends very much on this genuine-staged quality, but it is also beautifully framed and illuminated, and the setting is appealingly simple and rustic. Light streams in from the right; our central figure holds a brightly-illuminated newspaper in her hands, sitting at an angle on the bed to ensure the full power of the sun falls on the page in front of her. To the left, with his (?) back to the photographer, sits another reader (?)—this one at a table. The presence of a second person, not participating in the process of being photographed, does make the photograph seem more natural or, at least, heightens the impression of this being highly typical, if not entirely unstaged.



Regarding the dating of the photograph: there is an EKC logo in a dotted-line stamp box on the version, the EKC logo intersecting the top of the stamp box, and the words “EKC Place Stamp Here” in the middle. Apparently EKC published postcards between 1939 to 1950 (but only cards from 1938–45 appear in the long list here. It is likely that a close examination of all issues of Portland Sunday Telegram from this period would reveal the exact issue our reader is holding, and so the likely date of the photograph—which would be nice. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the newspapers, or the time to do the searching.