Closing doors.

Robyn Bryan
Robyn Bryan. Shinnin & Whalen. Tintype.

Some of the most compelling images in the Chapman albums remain a mystery. Many students took time to examine a single photo and explain its intrigue. Robyn Bryan describes how she came to the image titled “Sophie.” Its style and form drew her in, and soon she longed to know more. For Robyn, there were not enough clues to go further. At a road block, she shares her sense of disappointment at having to bring her work to a close, still knowing very little about the mysterious young woman she so admired.

I  again looked through the images in Arabella’s albums. It was difficult to choose one to deem the most interesting. All are striking and intriguing, filled with enough mystery to make you stare longer. I finally chose the pale photograph of a young girl titled Sophie. It was unique, so faint that I had to make sure that it was not a drawing. The pink bows on the girl look hand drawn.

1.26. Sophie, or woman with two bows. CDV.
1.26. Sophie, or woman with two bows. CDV.

My questions about this image led me back to the Clements Library. To better understand photograph albums, I time looking at a friendship album, a book of signatures, drawings, and written notes from family and friends. The bows of Sophie’s photograph scrap booking quality of a photo. Adding color or a bow even enhanced or might even change the effect of a photograph.

Soon I am thinking about Sophie herself. Does the photo tell us something of her character? Was she subtle, understated, fading into the background? Did she like the addition of pink? Who is the author of this image? The photographer, Sophie, or Arabella who saved it in her album? Perhaps all three.

I am left with more questions than when I started. This has been true for much of our class work. The more we dive into the people in these photographs, the more we want to hear their stories. I kept staring at this young woman wondering about her relationship to Arabella and the type of sisterhood they shared. As our class enters deeper into individual research, we face the challenge of having to close doors, even as we desire to spend time looking into every “Sophie” we encounter.

— Robyn Bryan






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