What I love about these three photos is the way the children embody the attitudes of their three different countries at the time the photos were taken.
Look at these three French siblings photographed in Paris. You can tell they are well-behaved, maybe somewhat stuck-up and very proud of themselves and their fine clothes. The young man is wearing a derby and a silk scarf at his collar The older girl has ribbons on her hat, a bit of lace at her throat and high- button shoes. The smaller girl has sausage curls, lots of bows on her hat, fine lace on her collar and cuffs. After magnifying what is on her chest, I think it is a pin representing the head of an ermine and some ermine tails. (Feel free to disagree.)
Although these French children are holding toys--a hoop, the stick for spinning the hoop, and a large ball in a web-like bag--you get the feeling that if they were taken to play in a park, say the Tuileries, they would never get their clothes dirty or scrape their knees.
I’m showing the back of this cabinet card, because the photographer’s advertisement for his “artistic photography” is interesting. Chambertin is at 63 Boulevard Rochechouart beside the famous Circus Medrano (which these three no doubt attended) and facing the Concert Hall La Cigale (which is still on the same street, hosting various acts, most recently Cee Lo Green). I can’t figure out why the photographer posed these children so far from the camera and then vignetted the photo, leaving them surrounded by white space. Maybe that was the “artistic” part.
Next consider these three German children, also posed in a photographer’s studio (Karl Bechmann, in the town of Schonheide). Props like the fence and vine behind the girl and the bench the boy is sitting on and the great three-wheeled wicker push-chair for the baby, give the impression they’re outside. The boy seems to be in a military uniform—with a Prussian-style helmet and epaulets on the shoulders. He looks ready to go to war, and seems protective of the baby.
These three blue-eyed children are sterling examples of the “Aryan race” that Hitler would talk about decades later, but we can’t accuse them or their parents of being proto-Nazis, because this photograph, also a cabinet card like the one above, was taken sometime between 1870 and 1900.
I tried to identify the helmet on the boy—with a buckle and some insignia on the front—but I had no luck. If anyone out there could tell me more about the helmet or date the photo exactly, I’d be very grateful.
Finally we have these two smiling American tots. They are completely ready to go to war—the little boy even has his gun in its holster.
Many photo collectors specialize in military photos—from pre- Civil War to the present—and they would be able to tell me everything about these uniforms and what the insignia means. But I’m woefully ignorant of militariana, so please fill me in.
Clearly these American kids were photographed about fifty years after the children in the French and German cabinet cards. It’s an odd photo, measuring 3 by 5 inches and is mounted on tin. I wonder what event this photo was meant to commemorate?
All three of these groups of children are innocent representatives of the views of their parents and their countries. They have no inkling of the devastating wars that will soon rend their world and kill huge numbers of their generations. I just hope that these youngsters, so secure in these childhood photos, all lived to grow up.