Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Sometimes when I look at old photos I am struck at just how average some people look. They have faces that span the years, like some of the recent doppelgängers I have posted, or someone from the 19th century looks like they might just walk out of the local shopping mall. Faces tell the story of our emotions, our deep secrets, and our lives, and are truly extraordinary, each in its own way. No two faces are alike. Even identical twins have some dissimilarities in their faces, that although difficult for the untrained eye to perceive, are there none the less.

I particularly like this group of old photos because the people are very average, almost unextraordinary in their ordinariness. And yet, you see a father proudly sitting with his children and the family dog, a soldier ready to risk his life for his country, young women feeling flirty and free. Were they simply attempting to blend into this amazing ecosphere called American life? Or, is it that these faces reflect our own lives, our toils and worries, our triumphs and victories?

It cannot be overlooked that a photo of an Asian soldier presumably in the US – in California, even – during the war era must be uncommon (considering I can go into several antique shops on any given day and find numerous and plentiful snapshots of white soldiers from the same era). Was this man Japanese and enlisted in one of the segregated Japanese-American units?

Was this the new family car? Getting ready to go out for some fun? I love how the little girl is sort of slouchy in what looks like an attempt to imitate her elder, and yet comes off as looking as though she needed some more practice.

As you look into these faces, what do you see?

When you are finished with your contemplations here, click over to Sepia Saturday to find more of the ordinary and extraordinary faces from around the world.

Click, with great haste!

14 thoughts on “Unextraordinary

  1. Little Nell says:

    You’re absolutely right, all faces are extraordinary in their own way, which is why we are so fascinated by them, especially in old photos. These are no exception.


  2. Liz Stratton says:

    Extraordinarily unordinary post. There is something simply adorable about that boy in the first photograph. He looks like he is planning his next prank!


  3. Bob Scotney says:

    Even the dog’s face in the first photo is interesting. This is a charming and happy family group.


  4. Wendy says:

    Thank-you for this interesting group of photos. Your observations enhance what otherwise would be rather ordinary family pictures.


  5. I wonder who were they..were they happy? What was the occasion of the photo? As you know I love all the old photos and the storieas that some of them almost tell:)


  6. kristin says:

    I guess ordinary is ordinary because there is so much of it. I think that each photo becomes extraordinary when we think about the story that goes with it and wonder about the people.


  7. usermattw says:

    Very nice photos and observations. I know that a lot of vintage photo collectors put a premium on the extraordinary (circus freaks, people in bizarre costumes, etc.), and those are fascinating, but photos like this can have just as much appeal to me.


  8. Mustang.Koji says:

    It’s always interesting to note that whenever a US soldier is depicted in a photo, they are simply referred to as an American soldier…. While we do not know who the soldier is in the second photo, he is definitely not “Japanese”. He is likely an American citizen, i.e., would we refer to a Caucasian soldier as “German” or “Italian”? No, no negative tone of voice being used here… Just an observation. :)


  9. You ask what I see. Well, in the last picture I think there is so much difference in the countenance of the two ladies (joy) versus the little girl (indifference). It makes you wonder what is going on.


  10. postcardy says:

    I guess most people are ordinary. The girl in the last photo looks like she has a chip on her shoulder.


  11. Kathy says:

    When you ask us to really look into the faces you present, there is much to see. In that last photo – a little girl trying to look indifferent, perhaps the mother(?) on the right looking shy in front of the camera, and the lady in the middle is the only one who looks comfortable in her body and in front of the camera. Enjoyed them all!


  12. A fantastic set and thoughtful post. I see three chapters to an incomplete novel, maybe a serial story that we will never know the ending. The first photo could be a Asian family group from anywhere and anytime. The second gives us a context of place with a US soldier. The third adds timeframe with the jeans and car. I see the small boy on the left becoming the soldier and later getting a photo of mom and sister, niece by the new car.
    Maybe not WW2 but Korean War 1950s?.


  13. Very nice grouping. I think the youngest girl in the bottom photo looks a bit put upon, as if she doesn’t really want to be there. I say this, because I have been in that situation many times, and my body language was identical. I know whereof I speak.


  14. Karen S. says:

    Yes, when one looks closely you begin to see the differences, or the family traits, and we all do have our own something about us. It’s funny though that often we look at people (I’m and eye person) but still once that person has left the room can we always recall what they were wearing? They are for sure a happy family and what an adorable dog!


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