Yesterday, I saw this photograph taken in 1863 by Andrew Joseph Russell in a a book of photographs at the Met. I stopped and stared at it for a long while. I am often struck by images, moments that remind me that those who lived in the past lived in a world very much like mine. I remember the golden clear light in my rented room in New Orleans, when I lived there in 2006, and I would think, enslaved women and concubines lived in this light, too. That they, too, laughed, and smiled, and loved. That they were never just unsmiling sepia images, that they were exactly the same kind of flesh and blood and consciousness as all of us are in 2012. This seems so obvious, yet it is so easy to try and diminish this fact in the mind, or just try to forget.
But I open this book and see this building, and I am struck by the painted sign, for I am always photographing old, worn signs like this, and I have never in my life seen an advertised “product” like this. Yet this looks like it could have been taken mere decades ago.
Alexandria, Virginia. Ah, ja. Looking at this photograph, the past doesn’t feel that past at all.
For more on the photo: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/190036386