Personal Memory, Visual Memoir
Pictures often serve a private purpose. They allow us to share with family and friends the intimate experiences of our lives. The six Romanov family albums held at Beinecke document not only the last years of the Russian Imperial dynasty but also the emergence of inexpensive, popular photography, which allowed nearly anyone to capture impromptu moments of everyday life on a massive scale.
In 1901, J. M. Barrie combined photography and imagination to stage an adventure story for his friends, the Llewelyn Davies family, whose children inspired Peter Pan. Barrie produced two copies of The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, being a record of the terrible adventures of the brothers Davies…. Thirty-five photographs of the boys illustrate a swash-buckling tale. One copy, given to the boys' parents, was misplaced on a train in 1901. The remaining copy is held at Beinecke.
The scrapbook of Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle suggests the fascination and power that pictures have in helping us shape and remember ourselves. Without captions, the pages collage personal photographs of friends against commercial images of places visited. Outdoor nudes of H.D. are interspersed with pages dedicated to intimate friends, including Brigit Patmore, the partner of H.D.’s estranged husband Richard Aldington. It is tempting to regard each page as a stanza in a lyric poem.
In a research library, private pictures become public, allowing us to ponder the personal life of writers and authors. From 1915 through 1935, the painter Florine Stettheimer, along with her sisters Ettie and Carrie, hosted a salon for modernists in Manhattan that attracted Francis Picabia, Leo Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and others. Painting was a personal, not a commercial pursuit for Stettheimer. During her life she shared her work with friends, who were often her subjects. She requested that her paintings be destroyed upon her death, but her sister Ettie refused to do so.
Stettheimer strove to capture her subjects’ lives as well as their profiles. A portrait of writer Carl Van Vechten was filled with images representing his life and work: a pile of his own books act as a perch for a favorite cat; an immense book collection looms behind him; a piano recalls his music criticism; a dressing table offers a shrine-like arrangement of images representing Van Vechten’s wife, Fania Marinoff: a rug bearing her name lies before the table and a theatrical mask of her face hangs on the wall above it.
In The Studio Party, Stettheimer depicts a gathering of friends and family. Biographer Barbara J. Bloemink identified the guests and other images in the room: “At the top left, Ettie [Stettheimer,] Isabel Lachaise, and Maurice Stern gather below a copy of Florine’s ‘Family Portrait No. 1,’ in which the figure of [her mother] Rosetta and a portion of the central bouquet are visible. On the lower left, Gaston Lachaise and Albert Gleizes, both artists, stand facing a canvas visible to the viewer only from its back. Avery Hopwood and Leo Stein sit in the center area; behind them is the Hindu poet Sankar sitting directly before Stettheimer’s nude self-portrait on a large easel. At the right Mme Gleizes, Florine, and a partial figure wearing a Harlequin costume rest on a red and white couch.”