I’ve mentioned many times that my Grandfather, Boris Lenoff, owned and ran a portrait studio on the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. It later moved to Ocean Parkway and probably closed sometime in the sixties when he sold off the entire inventory of cameras and photo files.
Back then a photographer had to be more than just good at taking pictures, they had to be a chemist; making all their own chemical baths for developing film and prints, a mathematician to figure out exposures and lighting ratios, an artist who could artfully retouch prints with pen and brush, and a social director who knew his neighbors and could work with kids and get them to sit still in front of the camera.. The latter probably being the most challenging task of them all.
Shortly after I was born, I started to have my picture taken by my Grandpa, in what would become a regular routine. I, and sometimes my cousin Michael, were shuttled out to Brooklyn for photo sessions, posing in an array of diapers, blankets and period piece outfits of questionable taste.
What is so strange to me as I sit here and view these photos today is that they look so vintage, as if I was looking at some historical photos of a child in a bygone era with stiff poses and clothing so out of fashion they never even came back in fashion in the past fifty years. An old prop plane in my hand in one photo is also kind of telling.
But it is me. I guess I’m vintage, at least my childhood is.
A lot of what contributes to this disconnect is the style the photos are done with. Not quite the Stepford family creepy smile look that one might find from a typical Sears Portrait, but the softness and look is of a certain era. And then there is the fact that it is in black and white, this alone would indicate to someone like my 13 year old son that the photos might have well be taken during the Civil War.
I put my photos in chronological order and saw myself age from a few months to about six years old, when my Grandfather probably closed the studio and retired.
There is a certain perspective and completeness that one can only see when viewing one’s life in this chronological order. It is something I have been doing with my photos. Scan your old photos, create a time line and watch your life, well, come to life. Hopefully you won’t be vintage like me.