25 Jun Momentary images, forever treasures
by Vivian Lawson Hogue
“Smile,” he said. “Why?” I wondered. I was told he was going to take my picture, but nothing he was standing behind looked like my mother’s Brownie camera. It looked like a box, and he seemed to be hiding behind it. After the bright lights were turned on, I felt like asking if I could join him.
The first time I “sat” for renowned, local photographer Sam Fausett, I was 9 months old. All eyes and mouth. At about 15 months, I was there again. Still eyes and mouth, but now I had four teeth and enough hair to fasten with tape and a blue bow. At 3, I was joined by my youngest brother, then with the other three for a group shot with the oldest at age 20.
By age 15, I saw where this was going. There is not much worse than a home haircut at the wrong age. With bangs that dipped in the front, I wished for another piece of tape and a bow. That shot will never see the light of day.
At age 18, I had a little more dignity as I wore a beautiful mother-made dress that Chanel would envy, and my hair was up in a “do.” I was graduating and growing up. At 21, I was probably the only pageant person whose mother made her runway and talent dresses, but they were almost professional.
Some years later, Mother had an idea to have a group shot of the five of us in the same sitting positions as earlier. I was 25, and the oldest was 42. We thought it silly at the time, but we humored her. Mother knew what she was doing. It was the last group shot forever, as two of us are now gone.
Mr. Fausett’s wife, Alice, was his assistant, making sure every subject’s hair was tidy, every skirt pleat lined up and every pocket handkerchief came to a point. I think it took her longer to arrange my wedding dress than it did for some poor soul to make it. My daughter was the last of the family to “sit” for Mr. Fausett, and, of course, beginning at the age of 9 months.
I have been sorting old photos lately. Many of them have no names or dates. Even if they were multiple choice guesses, there wouldn’t even be a 50 percent chance I would get them right. Some go back to the 19th century, and it is easy to see that most of those people were told not to smile. Early photography took a while for the process to happen, and one had to sit still for a few minutes. Too long for a smile, especially a natural one.
Another reason was that it seemed unnatural to smile at a box, then experience a flash that scared folks out of their wits. A third reason, so it is said, was that with no professional dental care, many people were missing teeth. I know, at 9 months I smiled with no teeth, but at least I didn’t look like my granddad.
By the 1890s, more people were at least turning up the corners of their mouths somewhat. When the Brownie camera came in around 1900, it was smiles and fun all the way. I have a wealth of those. I get to see my parents as young people having fun with friends; relatives who handed down appearance traits; my grandmothers who never got out of the no-smile era; my hillbilly grandfather; and my other one I never knew. I am grateful for old photos.
In the late 1990s, after Sam Fausett’s death in 1979, I interviewed Mrs. Fausett so I could write the history of their house for publication. She had a multitude of dogs, and we had to break occasionally to feed, water or pet one. Several of those dogs were buried in the backyard and honored with marble stones.
Their wonderful French Tudor home on Western Avenue was once owned by the J. E. Little family, and it was notable for having the largest pin oak tree in Conway. Both the one-of-a-kind house and tree are only historical memories now, having been removed to build . . . yes, a parking lot. Mr. Fausett took pictures of his house, and I was fortunate to take one the day of my visit. For me, it is one of those local “ghost houses” embedded in my memory.
They never fade.
It seems there are too many of those now, which is nothing to smile about.
Vivian Lawson Hogue
A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.