Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Toughs

(Here is our contribution for this week's edition of Sepia Saturdays.)

"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.

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31 Comments:

At 2:51 AM, Blogger Martin H. said...

They do look as though they might get up to something, any time soon, don't they? Good photograph to have though.

 
At 5:13 AM, Blogger subby said...

Maybe just showing off for a free-lance photographer? Endless mystery abounds here :)

 
At 5:26 AM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

your grandmother's comment is a hoot!!

I love the snap and can totally understand the attraction and why you broke the bank to spend two whole dollars on it!!

the word jaunty was made to describe these 'bad boys'

happy sepia saturday junk, hope your rain has stopped.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Vicki Lane said...

An intriguing picture indeed! Perhaps they'd just kicked the photographer off the porch.

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger Betsy said...

Oh how great! I have a few pictures that were in a collection of family photos that remain as unknown people. I should make up a fascinating story instead of just saying that I have no idea who they are! ha!

It is a great photo..I can see why you bought it!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Poetikat said...

It IS a great shot! Looks like a still from one of those gangster pictures. I find some conviction in their stance and appearance and tend to think they weren't faking it.

Kat

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Martin H - Maybe the getaway drivers for Bonnie and Clyde?

Subby - Wouldn't it be wonderful to end up on Antiques Roadshow to find out it's an early work of Walker Evans?

mouse - Yes, I love that word jaunty. They look a little bit naughty but not dangerous. I should do a post of nothing but quotes from my two grandmothers.

Vicki - That's a good theory. That would explain their cocky smirks and the odd angle.

Betsy - Maybe you could put names of famous people on the back and fool your great grandchildren years ahead to be make them think you're related.

Poetikat - Maybe those jackets aren't just baggy but are concealing weapons.

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger The Clever Pup said...

Vito Corleone in his early days.

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Clever Pup - I think that may be what attracted me to it since I got it not long after the first two Godfather movies.

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Entertaining - your bank robbers. Love it!

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger willow said...

My neighborhood, south of the Plaza, had the best estate sales in the late 70s. I treasure some of these finds to this day. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who displays photos of unknowns in my house!

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger The Silver Fox said...

Oh, that's a great photo, regardless -- or perhaps because of -- the mystery behind its origin! And... $2.00? You're lucky I didn't spot it first!

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Willow - My grandmother lived in one of the highrises on the plaza back then. Maybe we were elbowing each other for finds.

Silver - What, were you on the Plaza at the same time?

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger The Silver Fox said...

Small darned world, innit? ;-)

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger Pat transplanted to MN said...

I love that you rescued and treasured their photo; it is wonderful that you can appreciate it. Even better to create a story for them. Often when I see photos at estate sales I feel sad that there is no family who tok them along; seems it happens a lot now.

It is an enjoyable SS!

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger subby said...

Now how cool would that be, Junk Thief? VERY!

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Bachelor said...

You are so funny with your tales!
You wretched grandson you, upsetting grandmother that way! :) Great post JT.
The Bach

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger John Hayes said...

It's an interesting shot--I vote posed & not smokers--but whether it's "real" or not is part of its interest. I'm with Mouse on your grandmother's comment & "jaunty."

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Silver - Very small.

Pat - Yes, I hate to see orphaned photos.

Subby - The coolest.

Bach - Don't give my grandmother too much sympathy. She was no pushover and knew how to get even!

John - I am thinking about renaming this blog "The Jaunty Journeys of Junk Thief".

 
At 8:33 PM, Blogger Barry said...

I love mysteries.

However, I don't think I'd want to meet those two down some dark alley. Posed or not they do look tough.

Great photo to own though.

 
At 9:18 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Barry - I tend to agree. I prefer these kind of guys in mystery novels and old Warner Brothers films, not in real life or at least not dark alleys.

 
At 9:52 PM, Blogger steviewren said...

I like it too. Maybe because there is such an air of cockiness to it. I bet the boys were pretending to be gangsters, Al Capone or Pretty Boy Floyd maybe.

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Stevie - I guess we'll never know, but it's fun to guess.

 
At 10:17 PM, Blogger Megan said...

Love it! I would have bought it, too, although I was nowhere near Kansas City in the 1970's. :)

 
At 10:22 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Megan - Boy, was I lucky to nab that when I did!

 
At 2:13 AM, Blogger Alan Burnett said...

The only rules for Sepia Saturday is that the image should be old (more than a few months old anyway) and that it should be interesting. You meet both rules with this fascinating piece. In fact you more than meet them, you surpass them. Fascinating.

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger lettuce said...

I don't think sepia saturday is that prescriptive, is it?
(I hope not, I have some great pictures of unidentifiable possibly- (but maybe not) friends of the family which I want to post sometime)

this is great, anyway - has such a contemporary feel.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Alan - Thanks, glad that I passed!

Lettuce - I agree. It feels a bit like the movie "Days of Heaven".

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger The Silver Fox said...

@Alan or Poetikat: If I understand the "rules," it's perfectly okay to find a photo of a non-family member and craft a story around it, right?

Not that I'll have time for that for about twelve years, now that I've started my own family history, of course...

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger Rhonda in OK said...

I like your picture but I like your grandmothers comments even more - sounds just like what both my grandmothers would of said

thanks for sharing

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Silver - Rules were meant to be bent a bit.

Rhonda - My grandmother spent some time in Oklahoma, so she could relate.

 

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