They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which might be true, if interpreted correctly!
When I have shown this painting called, “The Wedding of Arnolfini,” by Jan van Eyck, (1434), to my students and would ask what is this painting about? What’s the story behind it? Several students would reply that this is a shot-gun marriage because the woman is pregnant.
First, the woman was not pregnant. In fact, she never would have any children. It was painted in with the hope she would bear children. The dog is a symbol of fidelity, the shoes on the floor, the mirror, rosary on the wall, a lit candle above them all indicate symbols of marriage that took place legally in a church with all its blessings–This is a 15th Century Marriage Certificate.
Now, What about the picture to the right? What are your initial thoughts? What impressions and emotions are you feeling? Do you think you have the story down?
What objects can you identify? What do the objects in the picture tell you? Every object in this picture has a story to tell, if you can remove yourself from 21st Century prejudices and bias.
When I talk of prejudices and bias I’m not talking about race but cultural boundaries that separate us through time.
I found this picture on a Facebook page that hosts old photos. The question on this photo was, “What can we learn from the little girl who lives in a cabin with newspaper as wall coverings and smiles?” “Why does she smile considering her living conditions?
When I did my research, I found out that the picture was made by Carl Mydans in 1936. Carl Mydans was a photographer who documented the depression years.
The newspaper was valuable because that zeroed in where this little girl lived. She lived in the Ozarks of Missouri. The nearest town newspaper was the, “St. Clair County Republic.” The newspaper indicates ads for the New Year. So, this was probably either a December 1935 or January 1936 newspaper. The cabin has no running water or electricity. The stove is the main source for cooking and heating. There is a kerosene can next to her. I would expect the bed to be behind the photographer.
It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I have chosen to write only 500 words\blog. A photograph, on the other hand, has many stories to tell, which are frozen in time for eternity, in a fraction of a second, in a person’s life.
Sherlock Holmes once said, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” In this 1936 picture, the initial question was, “Why is this poor little girl smiling?” Of all the objects in the picture, the one obvious thing that would make this little girl smile is a new pair of shoes. Compared to the little girl’s hat and dress, the shoes show no wear or dirt. Observe the obvious.