New York Photo Review
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Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
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Family Album
R. Wayne Parsons
Anonymous, Daisy Dean Greer Parsons, c. 1950

This old family photograph dates from around 1950. It is important to me not solely because of its personal significance, but also because it says so much about the time in which it was made and the people who made it. The woman on the left is my paternal grandmother, Daisy Dean Greer Parsons, accompanied by an unidentified woman, probably a neighbor, possibly a friend or relative. The picture was taken on the front porch of my grandmother’s large (15 rooms) house in Birmingham, Alabama. I don’t know who snapped the picture – certainly no one with any real knowledge of photography, as there weren’t any in my family; thank you, Kodak!

A few words of background are helpful in understanding this image. My grandfather had been by the standards of the day reasonably successful and affluent. He was the founder of the first bank in Jefferson, North Carolina, near where he was born and spent the first several decades of his life. Later in his life he moved to Birmingham, where he owned considerable rental property. He also owned farms in Demopolis and Greensboro, Alabama, at the same time Walker Evans was taking his now-classic pictures of the area for the Farm Security Administration to document conditions in the depression. Evans’ iconic images of sharecroppers used so effectively in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (text by James Agee) were taken in the same vicinity, and to this day I still identify strongly with them, even though I was there only once and have no real experience with the life depicted in these powerful photographs.

But the great depression wiped my grandfather out, and after he died in 1943 my grandmother was reduced to taking in roomers to make ends meet; those fifteen rooms came in handy.

In the lower left the front porch swing is visible. In the 1920s and 30s a porch necessitated a swing, and my grandmother had one. My sister and I so much enjoyed playing in it on our trips to visit my grandmother, as our house in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, had neither a porch nor a swing.

In the lower right hand corner an earthenware jug is visible, which would have held ice water, lemonade or sweet tea; if you’re thinking mint juleps you’re succumbing to stereotypes, as my grandmother was a complete teetotaler.

But the truly astounding thing about this photo is how well it captures my grandmother’s sense of self and her conception of the proper way to present herself in her society. She saw herself as, and was, a respectable member of society who believed in all the mores and codes of behavior that respectability entailed. She played her part magnificently as a strong member of her church (active in the Women’s Bible Class and the Women’s Society for Christian Service, whatever that was), the local garden club, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (come to think of it, I guess I don’t have a lot in common with my grandmother!).The formality and austerity of her dress, pose, and expression convey her personality and values vividly. There was nothing frivolous about my grandmother.

In my opinion, then, this photograph succeeds as an aesthetic object, as a social document, and as a personal memento. It would have been a marvelous candidate for inclusion in John Szarkowski’s superb book Looking at Photographs.

Family Album by R. Wayne Parsons

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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery