28 October 2016

Ou Sont Les Cyclistes Jeunes d'Antan?

Ou sont les neiges d'antan.

If you recognize that line, you've probably seen (or at least read) The Glass Menagerie.  As great an artist as he was, Tennessee Williams didn't write that line:  He took it from Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballad of the Ladies of Ancient Times), a poem Francois Villon wrote some four centuries earlier.

The line means "Where have the snows of yesteryear gone?"  Most of us, I believe, have asked some version or another of that question at least once in our lives:  perhaps when looking at an old photo album or yearbook, for instance.

Even if I have no connection to the subjects of an old image, I can't help but to wonder who they are and where they might be now.  

This photo was taken by John E. Scott and is dated 27 October 1954.  Posted on the website of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, it shows boys with bicycles they'd won in a contest which may have been sponsored by the Montgomery Examiner in Alabama.

Hmm...Not only do I wonder where those boys are, I wonder whether any of them are still riding today.  One can hope!


  1. Tell me where, in what foreign place
    Is Flora, who wore Roman dress...

    Where is the love of Abelard,
    The prudent Heliose...

    One of my favorite poems of all time. Thank you for calling it up.

    But, back on topic... (?)

    Old photos are more than intense or magic. The essence of photography is always that it captures a MOMENT. These people are standing there, in their place, in their time, as they were right then. Old photos can be reshot, reconstructed. People can be dressed "authentically" and in "authentic" surroundings. But the result is always false. They are dressed up, acting a part. A real 50 or 100 year old photo has a different quality about it. Everybody stands around, and even if they were posing, they were really doing it in 1954 or 1921. This quality cannot be duplicated. It has been said that people smiled slightly different 50 year ago or 100 years ago. Maybe.

    Authenticity, belonging to a time and place, is a seriously discussed question these days. My own impression of a modern night club: " A place where people drink, and pretend, trying to show off to others, how much they are enjoying themselves".

    And: "where are the Snowdens of yesteryear gone?"... Catch 22


  2. Leo, you could have quoted all of Villon and I wouldn't have minded!

    What you say about photographs clarifies something for me. I know that some people do not think they are art--at least in the traditional (i.e., pre-photography) sense. But capturing a moment, I believe, is a creative act, so I think photography (authentic ones, as you say) belong next to other forms of art. As with any other art, there are things that can be done in it that can't be done in other forms, and vice-versa.

    (I think now of the poet-teacher who told that if whatever we want to say can be expressed in some other medium, such as a short story, that is how it should be expressed.)

    "The Snowdens of yesteryear": I love it!