Altered Vintage Photo?

About 10 years ago, or so, I remember seeing a display of vintage ancestor photographs that some very good friends had on the wall in their home. I remember thinking at the time that they were so lucky to have the old photos and wishing that we had some of our family. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, several years later when I started to get involved in genealogy research, I found out that my Mom had quite a few that she had been storing, all but forgotten, in the attic. And as she has come across the photos, she has been passing them on to me.

One of the most puzzling was a family photo of John and Mary (nee Newman) Evans and their children. Here is an unretouched version that I scannned:

Evans family photo

As you can see, the photo is not in great shape. There are dark, blotchy marks where the photo has been damaged over the years. There are also some dirt marks or smudges near the top left. But the thing that has been puzzling me since I first saw it about 3 or 4 years ago is the “giant” man standing in back row on the left. Not only is he considerably taller than his brothers, but his shading is also quite different and his dark clothing is noticeably lighter than that of the other family members.

For quite a while I just accepted the anomalies at face value. The photo was, after all, taken prior to 1906, which is when John Evans died. (No photoshop back then!!) However, about a year a ago I came across the information that back as early as the 1860’s photographs on occasion had been altered! Apparently one way early photographers achieved this was by overlaying plates or negatives or “piecing” them together in the darkroom. In fact, there is supposedly a pretty famous photograph of Abraham Lincoln from the early 1860s in which his head was placed on the body of John C. Calhoun!

I am not sure why Abraham Lincoln’s photo was altered, but I have come to believe that my Evans family photo may have been altered to add the son who was missing on the day the photo was taken. I have read that it was somewhat common in the late 1800s and early 1900s for photographers to travel around the countryside taking photographs. Often these were family photographs that were taken outdoors. (I actually have several of these types of photos in my collection.) I can only imagine that when the photographer came to take the Evans family photo that one of the sons was not present. I believe, but certainly can’t prove, that the family provided the photographer with a photograph of the missing son, and that during the development process he was added in. And, considering the available tools and technology at the time, I think the photographer did a pretty good job.

In any case, that is my theory about this photograph. What do you think??

That’s it for now.



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