The unknown with the books
Date: Sometime around 1900
Photographer: Thyra Dahlman
Provenience: Målilla, Sweden
A photo from a time when everyone went to the photographer to have their picture taken and give them to friends and family. This particular photo comes from a family album, but it still does not mean that I know who the sitter is. It was obvious to the owners of that album, they never bothered with writing it down - and now it is a knowledge lost to the world - a far too common fate with old photos.
This is also a good example of what cabinet photos would look like outside the big cities, no advanced backdrop and the treatment of the photo is actually rather crude - the motif is blurred at the edges, but so much that even the face is somewhat blurred and the clearest part of the photo is the dress. The dress is absolutely a Sunday best - but I doubt that was the intention of the sitter. Even so it is an interesting piece, a legacy from a time when photography was one of the few decent professions open to women without loss of social standing a hundred years ago and more... (Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down any additional information on Thyra Dahlman, apart from her being active around 1900.)
The woman in the photo is, as I said, unknown, but a few clues about her as a person can be glinted from this shot. She is obviously not married - not even engaged. She is not wearing a ring. Her dress is perhaps a bit provincial but the fabric isn't coarse, the sewing is well thought through (look especially at the chest area and the pleating there) and the collar is laced. There is at least some money involved here. I am actually guessing she is a school teacher. That would mean she earned some money in her own right, and that would explain the books by her side. Props are not unheard of in older studio photography, but there is usually a point to them, a reason for them being there, and illustrating a woman standing all alone ought to indicate some form of interest in books - and the most common outcome for women interested in books, and with no husband, at this time was to become a teacher.