She is destined to be a problem child. The poised wrists, the dainty profile with tiny pierced ears that coil like shells, the crossed ankles – serene and lady-like inside leather buttoned boots – create a spoiled pose that needed no encouragement from parent or photographer.
A dress with scalloped petticoats, the triad of birds nesting within the brooch at her collar, the knitted socks, patterned with waves as frothy as her skirts…all are the results of a child’s pleadings, and the parents’ desire to please their girl.
She is balanced on a swing, childhood’s favorite vehicle – a means of transport into the clear, empty air. Before adulthood insists on a goals and guilt…a child insists on a journey into the unknown, and will look towards the sky for their anonymous voyage. But Faber Photographers were not ones to consider a metaphor.
This photograph was taken in the early 1900’s, when subjects no longer stared into a camera’s lens in stilted terror. In less than 10 years she will be standing inside the doorway of her home with her mother, nodding to guests who have come to pay tribute to her newly acquired womanhood. Her hair will be twisted high, exposing her neck and the silky skin of her shoulders: it will never curl down her back in childish abundance again. Once she becomes a young woman delegated to lace dresses, waltzes and corsets to set her spine and ribs into an acceptable anguish, she will have forgotten her swing, her oceanic socks and shiny boots.
And should she hear that the studio where she once held onto childhood’s intimacy so tightly was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, will she care? Or will it be too late: and all memories vanished and beyond the pain of regret?
Then, in ten years more, she will be married. How will the world have changed? All of Europe will be pale and weak, her blood soaking into the fields and rivers of Belgium, France and Italy. After the Somme,Verdun, the nine battles on the Isonzo river, Delville Wood – names that carry a weight of despair – she can do nothing but kneel in the mud and wait for the blessings of silence and defeat.
America will enter the war in 1917. In every city across the nation, young men will bid their families farewell…will this child become one of the weeping ladies standing on the train platform, brave in her delicate misery? Will she see her husband again – or will he fall in one of the terrible American battles: Argonne-Meuse, Belleau Wood, Cantigny?
This little girl has much to look forward to, and much to fear. Her joys hang in the balance, between a sheltered, golden world and a world rooting in war’s debris like a dog searching for food. She looks down from her swing in childish judgement, her life in the balance – but perhaps she doesn’t believe in metaphor, either.