Old photos

I do not know these people in the black-and-white photos. The images, locked away in a holiday popcorn in for years, are yellowed with age. I recognize some faces –grandparents, great uncles, a long dead aunt — but I cannot know them. These moments are of people frozen in time long before I put labels on them and they felt a pressing need to live up to them.

Some people I do not know at all. None of my living relatives do. I read somewhere once that after three generations the identities of people in most family photos fade into obscurity. They are just images tucked away in albums, or tins, somewhere.

Such is the case of this lovely photo of a young couple caught in an embrace on some beach:


I don’t know who they are, where the photo was taken or who snapped the shot. Did they marry and have children? Was this the perfect moment in some brief summer romance? I’ll never know. Perhaps all that really matters is the emotion captured for as long as this image exists.

The same can be said of this image of a boy hoisted on the shoulder of two men.


Then there are other photos that indicate someone had an eye for photography, like I sometimes like to image I do as well.


I have no idea where or when this photo was taken. I just like the way it is composed and the moment it captures of these two pups looking pathetic as they sit and wait for someone.

Really, all that was left in that tin when I opened it were feelings. Sometimes, when I could identify the person in the picture, I layered some of my own emotions on top of what was expressed in them.

For some reason this is one of my favorite pictures.

A post shared by Brian Mains (@brian_in_cincinnati) on

The above photo really is one of my favorites. The composition plays a part. The repeating patterns and lines of pillars and fencing. Then there is the “Dark Ride 3 Tickets” sign. The painting of a hill behind. The tentative smile of the ride operator. The person seated is my grandmother, nearly two decades before I was born, sitting alone. I see a metaphor in the image. I am reading too much into it. My grandmother died on Memorial Day 2009 at the age of 90 after suffering from dementia for years. The disease made her retreat further into the dark corridors of her own mind.

Then there is this photo of four men during a time of war:


I know the third man from the left due to his distinctive features. He would go on to become my grandfather. My memories of him are fragmented by youth and a bit of fear and hero worship. He was a pretty intimidating figure in my youth. He died from pancreatic cancer when I was 10. Someone actually wrote a bit of info on the back of this image.

On the back it says Haneda, Japan Nov. 1945. The date is about 2 months after Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the Japanese turn over the base to Allied Forces. My grandfather is forever 24 in this picture. He enlisted in 1943 and had already been married and divorced, according to military service records I found online. I wish he had lived longer, so I might have learned more about him.

And finally, there are a whole series of photos that have no place in the tin. I am 90 percent certain I know the subject in them as a historical figure. His name is Charles Lindbergh, famed pilot of the Spirit of St. Louis. From what I can find online, Lindbergh flew his plane to Cincinnati’s municipal airport at least once.  A few images show him standing in front of the Spirit of St. Louis.

My favorite though is this blurred image of who I imagine the man to be, seated in a convertible taking part in what appears to be a parade in his honor.





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