There are thirteen photographs in my possession out of a possible forty and all of a wedding. The only reason I know there are forty images is because the printer had numbered them by hand with a ball point pen on the back side, along with the studios contact information. These hand produced 4.5/8 x 3.5/8 inch prints have a sepia appearance because they were printed on sturdy Portralure Paper Y by Kodak and developed with Selectol. This would insure the prints having a warm brown to black tone appearance. However the paper itself also added to the allure of richness, with its pearl like reflective surface composed of a fine satin grain, softening any detail or imperfection.
The numbers that appear on the back of each print in no way can be associated with the sequence of the event the prints pictured. They appear randomized with no connection possible to a negative roll or the films exposure frame. One is left to speculate this to have been a smaller order for a guest or distant family member who was to receive only a selection of prints. However there are far more important mysteries to be unfolded, since none of the prints have any pertinent information other than who was hired to document the event.
The Bergé Studio, which was hired to cover the event, was located in Westlake, a district of Daly City, next to Lake Merced, where I grew up during 1960 to ‘63, just before we moved to the Eichler Highlands. Since photograph marked number three is of the church and there is a car parked in front, I am able to identify the vehicle as a Buick from anywhere in between 1959 to 1962. Regrettable though, the license plate is only a rectangle of solid colour due to the grain of the paper.
Apart from the visual evidence, the Bergé’s studio number was Plaza 5-0884, a system that was abandoned mid-1960’s in favor of an all numeric system. For those who cannot remember, the first two letters of a word referred to part of the number, in this case PL and one would dial PL5-0884 to reach Bergé Studio. Today 75 Fairway Drive is known as the Merchant Circle and the business at that location is GM Electric. According to property records, it last changed ownership on November 19, 1972 for $38.5000.
At least a narrow time frame has been established and now the focus is on the individuals in those photographs. Print number two marked seven, shows the bride and groom, now husband and wife, along with the three bridesmaid and their escorts. The bridesmaids are wearing matching gowns, veils, and gloves, while the men are in their black tuxedos, all have a carnation in the lapel, but not everyone is displaying a handkerchief in the jackets upper pocket.
With thirteen photographs, I hold only one-third of the puzzle. My first real question is about the collection itself and their previous owner. What was the person’s relationship to anyone pictured, for that matter, are they in any of these pictures? If so, who then?
I wish I had at some handwritten comments on the back of any of the photographs, at least a first name of the key characters, but even the lack of this kind of evidence reveals a clue. From the photograph taken during the vows I am able to estimate the number of guests being between forty-five and sixty, a moderate size depending upon your views. At first it would appear this to be an all ‘white’ wedding, but in one photograph were the guest are being greeted at the reception by the couple and the bridesmaid and their escorts, the face of an African American woman. It looks as though she came alone.
Studying the facial features of the two women next to each other, it appears with almost certainty that the maid of honour is also the daughter of the bride. This then raises further speculation as to the bride’s prior marriage. Had she been a widow or was her single status due to a divorce? If she was a widow, how did her husband die and when or how? The Korean War had started June 25, 1950 and lasted until July 1953, the daughter would have been between ten and thirteen years of age, if one estimates her age in the photographs to be about twenty-two.
I am leaning towards the bride having been a widow, based upon that there were 36,574 US military personnel killed in the Korean War and divorce was difficult up to the late sixties since California did not have a ‘no-fault’ policy. I also include into this synopsis that the mother would have mourned for one to two years, followed by about five years before actively dating again and only when her daughter had graduated from high school, possible in 1958. Adding two to three years on top of that for a courtship, I am right back at 1960-1961.
Obviously this is all highly speculative. Yet such information and more can be gleaned from such photographs and with a fertile imagination, can be woven into a tale, a short story or a perhaps, even a novel. Photographs have the power to entrap us with their silence. Especially photographs that are about to be lost forever because of a death, for they seem to cry out the loudest.
The Native American believed a photograph had the capability to steal a persons soul and that person would then doomed to roam endlessly the landscape, searching for peace. Possible they were right after all, as I continue to collect these old black & white photographs, not only for their intrinsic beauty or the mysteries they hold, but for those voices longing to be heard.
The next posting will be part three, the conclusion of Painting 101: Creating a distress background and will be available on the September 20. I am also announcing the development of my third blog, A Portrait in Time, to be launched beginning of the year. Further details will be shared in subsequent posts.