Their arms uplifted, they raise their legs into the air and...what? Did they do a cartwheel? Did they perform a dance? Did they collapse on the grass in helpless laughter? And who are they? Longtime friends? New lovers? I so wish I had the answers.
They live inside one of the four cracked leather albums I bought at a flea market in London years ago. Most of the other photos inside have places and dates written on the back in a curling script, but this one is blank. I am pretty positive it dates from the 1920's-1930's, but the two garden sprites are a mystery.
My hope is to piece the stories together one day because whoever all these people were, they led quite the life. Page after page is filled with fancy dress parties and exotic vacations and airplane rides and ocean liners and beach outings and country estates...
...and much, much more.
There's an Adrien Brody lookalike indulging in some good-natured teasing with a girl in front of a white-washed cottage.
There are four well-dressed friends in the middle of a spirited conversation. Who are they? What are they laughing about? Why is the young man on the right grinning at the photographer as though they share a private joke of their own?
There's an afternoon outing in an automobile with the excitement of the occasion clearly visible on everyone's faces.
There's a tea party in a back garden with a frizzy-haired little girl in a lovely scalloped dress and a self-assured little boy wearing what can only be called "short shorts."
More significantly, there is a certain crop-headed girl who makes enough repeat appearances in all of the albums to make me suspect they must have belonged to her. She appears in a bathing costume at Kingsgate in August of 1924...
...visits Torino in July of 1929...
...reclines on a couch like an Odalisque at an unknown date...
...and wraps herself in blankets with her coworkers after a radiator burst in March of 1931. (That's her, second from right.)
I have a particular fascination with the man in the blanket. Look at the way he's gazing theatrically off into the distance. The other three ladies crouch halfheartedly while he strikes a pose like Greta Garbo at the prow of the ship in "Queen Christina." I wish I had known him, don't you?
In one of the albums I found a faded envelope which reads:
Miss Margaret Briggs
41 Rue D'Auteuil
On its own, it could mean anything, but going through the photos again today, I stopped to rhapsodize over the geometric Art Deco wallpaper in this room...
...and taking it out, I realized there was writing on the back of the photo:
41 R. D'Auteuil
10' 100 Watts -
The address on the envelope and the address on the photo match. So was the owner of my albums named Margaret Briggs? Somehow it seems too easy to be true. And even if it was, would that even help me after all these years? No doubt the stories and tales and records of the principal characters have been long overwritten by the ceaseless hum of the universe.
In a way, it doesn't matter. Perhaps not knowing who they are gives their images a more powerful intensity. Deprived of their identities, I parse the details of their photos not to uncover cold, hard facts but to seek clues into their emotional lives. What kinds of things were important to them? How did they live? How did they love? How did they relax? And how can I bring some of their passion and their fervor and their spirit into my life today?
One thing is certain: Piero and I need to do more cartwheels on the grass.