Sepia Saturday: Toughs
"Who are those two?" I used to be asked when visitors spied the above photo when it was framed in my dining room back in the '80s.
"Oh, Uncle Mickey and Howie before they held up the Western United Bank back in 1918," I would say.
I have no idea who they are. It may be bending the Sepia Saturday rules a bit to post non-family members, but since I brought the photo into my household more than 30 years ago, I will say the photo itself has become a part of the family. There is no date, name or location on the back. Just blank gray paper similar to what it is mounted to on the front. Yet this image has always fascinated. I'd guess it was taken sometime between 1900 and 1920. There is much about it that is remarkable to me. First, the angle is unique since both snapshots and formal portraits of the day were taken straight on or sometimes from above, never from below and with such an intriguing slant that echoes the pair's slouching posture. These two are clearly posing, perhaps playing characters. I suspect they were not actually smokers but perhaps imitating someone they saw in the movies, though this appears to be at least a decade before the age of George Raft and James Cagney, there is a real wise guy/tough guy stance.
The drape of the jackets, the white shirts with no ties, the tilt of the hats and the waterfall bangs of the boy on the right suggest a certain style, even if they may be a pair of farm boys playing tough guy dress up.
I bought it at an estate sale in Kansas City around 1977 or 1978, much to the horror of my grandmother. "Oh, how wretched, they look like my cousins Ira and Alonzo, but we never took pictures of their antics." She thought I was insane to waste two dollars on such an image. I doubt I'll ever appear on Antiques Roadshow to be told it's worth five figures, but it's still a favorite image in my collection.