What could me growing up in South West Virginia have to do with an itinerant photographer from Durham who was born in 1877? His name was Hugh Mangum and he had a knack for bringing out the personalities of his subjects when, at the time, most photographs depict stiff and stoic people similar to the photograph below.
We all have that family photo, taken with siblings, cousins or friends, that captures a specific time in our life or a specific feeling where you think to yourself “look at us” and just shake your head in amazement. These photographs trigger memories that trigger other memories. The photo below is that for me. These are my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house in the early 90’s. My siblings and I grew up on the same street as my grandparents and my cousins in the town of Blacksburg Virginia. It seemed like we were always together but oddly there are very few pictures of all of us in one shot.
Even though this photograph was taken only a few decades ago a lot has changed in the lives of everyone in this photograph and also in the world of photography. This picture was taken using ‘traditional’ film where, after taking the picture, you had to rewind the film, drop it off at the Fotomat to get your film processed and prints made before you could even see the images! We never knew if we had a “good” shot until days, sometimes weeks after an event.
Here is where my path intersects with Hugh Mangum. We recently digitized some additional glass plate negatives from the Hugh Mangum collection. Hugh was an itinerant photographer that traveled throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. In Virginia he traveled to Christiansburg, Radford and Roanoke. These cities surround my hometown on three sides (respectively 8, 15 and 38 miles away). These images were taken from 1890 to 1922. This would put him in the area about 100 years before the family photo above. I wonder if he passed through Blacksburg?
Fast forward to 2018. We carry computers in our pockets that have cameras that can capture every aspect of our lives. We have social media sites where we post, share, tag, comment and record our lives. I bet that even though we can now take thousands of photographs a year there are still the keepers. The ones that rise to the top. The ones that capture a moment in such a way that the younger generations might just say to themselves one day “look at us” and shaking their heads.