Every Picture Tells A Story? Hmm…

Things are seldom what they seem/
Skim milk masquerades as cream/
Highlows pass as patent leathers/
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers/
Very true. So they do. (W. S. Gilbert 1836-1911)

And here I am, browsing through a local history magazine – and a good venture it is too. It is full of the right kind of things to prompt reminiscence and chat.

Plans that never came to fruition;

shops that once were; public houses closed and barred; homes disappeared; churches bereft of worshippers; parks and streets bedight with bunting; and thankfully, people. All the people. The faces ever young. The pictures ever older.

But wait! – Here is a picture of my mother at school.

That face!

And then I remember grandmother showing me the picture. “Can you tell your mother on there?” she asked me. The answer was obvious – at least to her. “No,” I replied. Nana laughed. “There she is. On the end. Scruffy isn’t she?” And though it pained me to admit it, it was true. There she was. My mother the scruffy child.

We all have pictures of school days.

The sometimes happy smile; the perchance forced smile; our pre-fashion-consciousness shirts; facial blemishes; unhappy stares;

Some of our parents also bought – through some miracle – copies of the whole class photographs. With what foresight, one might only imagine.

Before the 1960s,

individual photographs were a family matter and not a school’s concern. The class group was the only picture – in most places.

On class photographs

are to be seen nearly all the contemporaries. Names now distant, half-forgotten, married, left, deceased. Sometimes only a question mark – “?”

But my mother was on that photograph and named to boot.

And it has to be said, that though the naming was very good – perfectly accurate and without any question marks whatsoever – this was not quite correct.

Mother never attended that school.

So it may be that the people who did attend that school are racking their brains and wondering why they have no memories of her.


there was an explanation which was also interesting.

Mother had not started school at that time. The day in the 1930s that the photograph was taken was the day of her grandmother’s funeral.

The schoolmistress had very kindly offered to look after my mother on that day because my grandmother had enough to do – arranging food, coping with all the relatives (grandmother had thirty one cousins) and her own grief as well as looking after her shop at the same time. A noisome and uncooperative child of barely four years old would have been just that much too much.

So you see that there is a story in this picture.

But it is not the story that it might appear – at first glance – to be.

And that should prompt wonder and curiosity and inquisitiveness in all who look at all types of pictures.

For there is always a story – or so it might seem.


3 thoughts on “Every Picture Tells A Story? Hmm…

  1. Very true about pictures. There seems to always be a story right there for the grabbing, if you are so inclined. Today, I was in my car going through the “In n Out Burger” Drive Thru line. Just to the north of the restaurant is a car dealership. All over its premises is a battalion of flags, standing proud, flapping in the breeze. But this area is so heavily trafficked and nearly impossible to snap a photo without endangering life and limb near the whizzing-by fast cars. In this wait line, though, through my front windshield, I saw a “plain as can be” wrought-iron fence, made up of only black vertical bars. Definitely looked like a jail cell. At not too far of a distance, behind those bars were three American flags, all actively pronouncing their presence and meaning. I was just low enough as a driver, to see through the bars those flags. They did scale the top lateral bar by about a foot, though. If, I had had the guts to get out, of my vehicle, crouch down to see directly through the bars those flags bespeaking patriotism and freedom, I would have caught an awesome picture of controversy on camera.Thoughts to think about such a snapshot: Is our freedom, in truth, compromised, now? Are we so proud? Is Patriotism being caged? Many thoughts could be equated with this scene. Maybe, if I drove there before the store opens, early, I could get those flags – through those bars – into quite a snapshot. There’s a story. What might it say ninety years from now?

    1. In both of these instances I am fascinated by the innocent explanation. However, I am moved to worry about how misinterpreted imagery might cause the wrong conclusion to be drawn, as in the case of my short essay. You are correct too, in my opinion that pictures taken now, may well present interpretation problems to future historians and analysts. The overriding consideration in every case – at least, I think it is that – is just that everybody stops and thinks and prefers the probable impossible to the improbable possible.

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