My first thought about this photo, as I can imagine others thought too, is that it's the record of a disaster. Did the parents of this child die or disappear, leaving him or her in the care of grandparents? The two older people appear devastated. They must be the grandparents, suddenly thrust into a role nobody expects. The man's eyes look strange - like they're occluded with cataracts or perhaps even blind. I usually try to treat the Sepia posts with a modicum of humor but is there even the glimmer of hope for something funny about this trio?
I considered writing a caption. Such as....."Clean and Sober" or "Born to be Wild."
But no, there's simply nothing humorous about this scene. Finally, I remembered the creepy Victorian death photos. I searched the image on Google, and this photo was present on some sites that explore the subject of the ghostly photo. The question now becomes - are they all dead? I'm sure the old man is - the morticians or photographers would often paint eyes over the closed lids of the corpse before they arranged these grisly scenes. But then, the child looks terribly stiff, and the woman looks as if she might be propped up with a post in her back.
If the man is dead and the child alive, what a horror it would be to force him to pose with a corpse. The opposite would be equally horrible. On the other hand, every culture practices it's own death rituals and the death photo might have often been the only record people had of their loved one. I can understand that. Somewhere, there are coffin pictures of corpses from the Irish side of my family. I don't have them, but I know it was a common practice for my relatives to take one last photo of the dead person. I suppose to some this might seem just as creepy as posing the corpse in a simulated living tableau.
On the first trip I made to Vietnam in 2000, before digital photography was so ubiquitous, one of our group brought along a polaroid camera. In many of the villages we visited, people would ask her to take a picture of their aged loved ones. Not exactly creepy death photos but the spirit was similar. I remember in one town about twenty elderly people were lined up for a photo, once word got around that a "photographer" was in town.
|Scene from My Winnipeg|
I managed finally to find something to connect with on the "creepy photos" sites - a still shot of a scene from one of my favorite films - "My Winnipeg" by Guy Maddin. Guy invented a genre - the docu-fantasy. Everything in his film has a speck of truth in it about my hometown but most of it is fantasy. Here's a clip of the bizarre scene about frozen horses heads - considered creepy enough to share company with ghost photos and death photos.
The whole film is decidedly surreal and this video clip is a good representation of the work, which incidentally fared well with the critics. Roger Ebert rated it 4/4 and in 2015, the Toronto International Film Festival placed it in the top 10 Canadian films of all time.
I bet you're wondering about the other nine? Here they are: Atanarjuat, Mon Oncle Antoine,The Sweet Hereafter, Jesus de Montreal, Leolo, Going Down the Road, Dead Ringers, C.R.A.Z.Y., Stories We Tell/Les Orders. Of these, I've only seen The Sweet Hereafter and I can recommend it highly although be prepared to weep. Here's more detail about the notable Canadian Films.
For those who don't want to watch the clip...the horse-head story goes like this. There was a fire in the paddocks at the race track. The frightened horses bolted and ran straight for the river. The cold in Winnipeg is legendary, and Guy may have exaggerated slightly when he pictured the horses almost instantly frozen solid from the neck down. There they remained, creepy as can be, frozen in the ice in a grisly show, horrible beyond imagination. And then what happened? "We grew used to the sadness," the narrator tells us. The sight stopped being repulsive and started becoming a great public spectacle - the frozen heads were fascinating and people began to take excursions out to see them. First the snowshoe clubs went out for picnics and then in a truly bizarre twist, the area became a kind of lover's lane. A romantic aura settled over the scene and it morphed into a place for romantic rambles. The final wry? cynical? comment is that the city enjoyed a tremendous baby boom that autumn.
In one last ditch run through my own photo albums, I found one photo which relates to the prompt be it ever so slightly, in that there are three people in the composition, two older, one younger. All resemblance ends there because my relatives, my paternal great grandparents with their daughter, were all very much alive and almost smiling!