The Wicked Witch of the West With Satchel

To the person who made this photograph around 1900, the building meant wealth, the woman’s black dress, widowhood; a hundred years later, her clothes and hat conjure up of the Wicked Witch of the West. Metaphors change with time. To the lady with the hat and satchel, the dirt driveway was a given; to us, accustomed to asphalt paving, it speaks of rustic living or poverty.

The process of making the photograph also changes. To make this exposure, the photographer likely used a wooden camera mounted on a wooden tripod. The vertical lines of the building and the trees are carefully aligned with the short edges of the frame, requiring considerable care in setting up the camera.

Snapshots from another era remind us of change. Signifiers of wealth and social position alter with time, but we must remember that in the twenty-first century, people make photographs of their widowed shorts-wearing aunts in front of their houses with the same motivation.

PMM General Collection