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Harlem Renaissance - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Harlem Renaissance
I spent the middle of the day -- pleasurably -- participating in a graduate-student exam during which we spent a good deal of time talking about the Harlem Renaissance. That reminded me of the next photograph of my paternal grandmother I wished to share with you, taken after she and my grandfather had started a new life in the United States:

Judging by the age of my aunt, who appears to be around eighteen months old, and the fact that my grandmother isn't wearing a coat, this shot dates from the spring of 1924. Isn't her dress fabulous? I've always had a thing for women's fashions of that era. Indeed, I've always had a thing for the Twenties period.

It's been something of a mystery to me why that's the case. But I realized as I was starting to compose this entry that my grandparents' bedroom in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where they retired was practically a museum of middle-class metropolitan life between the wars. I suppose a lot of people hold on to the time when they were in their twenties, which happened to be the Twenties for my grandparents. Come to think of it, my office here at home is something of a museum of the 1990s.

Anyway, the reason that I thought of this photo during the exam today is that my grandparents settled in Harlem upon their arrival in the States. Although they soon moved to Queens, I'm almost certain that this photograph was taken when they were still living in upper Manhattan. And that got me thinking about another family photograph I scanned, in which my grandparents are dressed quite fashionably:

It's harder for me to date this photo, but imagine it's from the early years of the Depression. I love their hats, as well as the nearly-player-like expression on my grandfather's face. The interesting thing is the degree to which they continued to dress like this, if more staidly, up until the time I was a small child. My grandmother still wore dresses that conjured the pre-World War II days long after they'd gone out of fashion. It's hard to believe they were still making clothes like that, but I guess there's always a market for the attire in which a generation is able to identify itself.

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7 comments or Leave a comment
kumaraka From: kumaraka Date: May 12th, 2007 06:46 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh man, I love old pictures.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 12th, 2007 06:49 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Me too, obviously. Do you have any?
kumaraka From: kumaraka Date: May 12th, 2007 02:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've never trusted myself to keep them, but there are, of course, wedding photos of my parents and candid shots of them and my uncle in their early days as US immigrants etching out a place for themselves in L.A.

I can't explain why I'm so drawn to old pics.. they don't have to be anyone I know really.. just the idea that I have a window into a world now unaccessible is awe inspiring. Sentiments: Time moves forward, things we take for granted change, etc etc.

During my more depressed phases I decided travel was illogical to enjoy because life sucks every where, regardless of changed social cues. Like a lot of other invalidated pleasures, that conclusion about travel being worthless stuck with me emotionally even when I was less depressed. However, I never really thought much about time travel in my depressed days. Maybe that's why old photos are one of those few things that genuinely awe me, even today.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: May 12th, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes, these are super photos. I have some too but, can't post them right now. My connection at the univ. is BAD... I get dropped about every two minutes. :-(
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: May 12th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I *love* your grandmother's shoes in the first photo. Wow.
duccio From: duccio Date: May 12th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Me too. Look how baby's shoes are so similar. Gram liked her shoes so much she seems to have posed the left one and almost gestures to it. All of the pictures of her seem to rejoice in the clothing she wears. What other kinds of things was she interested in I wonder?
siyeh From: siyeh Date: May 12th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Love the clothes and the photos...Hope to see you on Monday if you can.
7 comments or Leave a comment