Monday, November 25, 2013

The Family Photographer

Photograph by René Breguet
Last month, I featured a Halloween photograph by my maternal grandfather, René Breguet, and mentioned that he had thoroughly documented my childhood. And because a number of blogging friends have encouraged me to do so, today I'm sharing a few more of his photographs.

Above is a self-portrait of the photographer, using a timer on his Zeiss Ikon camera. Though the license plate has the number "37," I believe this car is a 1935 Cadillac V8.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here's an image of my maternal grandmother in the same car. She has just lowered a newspaper, the tip of which can be seen at the lower right. She was a constant knitter, and doubtlessly made the jacket she's wearing.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here's a photo of the photographer's father-in-law, my great-grandfather Cesar. He's standing in his vineyard in Ligerz, Switzerland, and behind him is a great lake called Bielersee. The landmass in the distant right is the island of Sankt-Petersinsel, which was a favorite spot of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Photograph by René Breguet
Of all my childhood photographs, this is my favorite. My grandfather loved taking photographs of me and the circumstance of this particular one is that I had finally tired of the grandfatherly paparazzi.

Photograph by René Breguet
Having said that, I want to add that I idolized my grandfather, and so this photograph has great meaning for me. At some point I was given a miniature toy camera, one that had no moving parts whatsoever, but which looked authentic. It delighted my grandfather that whenever he took a photograph, I would immediately move into his space to take an identical shot. Here you can see his shadow, including the Homburg hat that he always wore.

Photograph by René Breguet
I spent innumerable hours with my grandfather in museums and galleries. Here I am at the National Gallery of Art, Saturday, March 27, 1954. I never tired of my grandfather's company because he was that unusual adult who never talked down to children. In retrospect, I'm sure that on this particular Saturday he explained the meaning behind any of the paintings that interested me.

Photograph by René Breguet
My grandfather enjoyed photographing art at the National Gallery and kept several photographic albums of paintings and sculptures for his own reference. This is my favorite of that series.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here I am studying a beautifully illustrated Bible. I still remember that afternoon.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is my favorite photograph of my brothers, taken in 1950. My understanding of my grandfather's work has evolved through the years. Because I grew up with his photographs, I knew them first as familiar images and accepted them simply as that. With time, I regarded them as good portraits, and more recently I've realized that they're fine psychological studies.

My grandfather was a psychiatrist, and a great observer of human nature. He was an engaging conversationalist with children and adults alike, and because his camera was also ever-present, his portraits — like the one above — have a very candid aspect. Certainly the words, "Say cheese!" never crossed his lips.

Photographs by René Breguet
These are Neoclassic toy chests that my father painted around the time that he was stationed in Occupation Germany. During World War II, munitions were sent to the front in such wooden crates, and after the war there was a surplus of these. While many were doubtlessly broken down for firewood during an historically cold winter, others were put to more creative use.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is my father and me on Mother's Day, 1957. My father was about to leave on a business trip. I like this photograph for three reasons. First, I like that it's an image Norman Rockwell could easily have painted; though it's not posed, it's how Rockwell would have posed his subjects. Second, the photo perfectly captures my father as I remember him. And finally, I love that the background looks like a painted studio backdrop, but it is in fact one of the streets of my childhood.

Photograph by René Breguet
Oh, my gosh, I loved this car! It was red and to my mind, very classy. I think my grandfather knew my pride in it. I don't know where I'd put it, but I wish I still had it.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is a photograph of my mother in 1958. She's wearing my grandfather's watch chain as a necklace, and from it hangs a Serbian Red Cross medal my grandfather was awarded during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

Photograph by René Breguet
When my grandfather wasn't photographing our family, he photographed many evocative images that he entered into photographic shows around the country. He called this Fantasie.
.

21 comments:

  1. Beautiful family! These photos are such treasures. Thank you, Mark, for sharing them with us. Your grandfather was a gifted photographer. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
    Cheers,
    Loi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Loi, Thanks for that nice comment. I'm wishing you and Tom a very happy Thanksgiving!

      Delete
  2. Dear Mark - Thank you for showing us these wonderful photographs taken by your maternal grandfather.
    They portray beautifully yourself and your family whilst capturing the particular period in which they were taken.
    H thinks that you were very fortunate to have had such a lovely little peddle car. You must have been the envy of all your friends.
    To reiterate, they are simply wonderful family photographs to own - I loved seeing them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Rosemary,

      Thanks to you and H for enjoying the photographs. I don't know if H noticed, but there was a horn on the side of that peddle car, though I can't imagine that someone wouldn't have heard me coming!

      Delete
  3. Dear Mark, Your favorite photograph of yourself is also mine. But then the photograph of you and your Father is another favorite. You come from a very handsome family.
    Your Grandfather's extraordinary photos provide not only a record but also show a family being involved in life. So glad you showed them to us. They are priceless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Gina,

      Thanks for your kind words. I didn't mention it, but my mother was an avid scrapbooker decades before the craze, and these family photos and many others come from more than two dozen scrapbooks.

      Delete
  4. Precious images. Your father was dashing - "every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man" - and your mother elegant. Her necklace is a touching tribute to her own father. I know you must find these images more near and dear to your heart as the years go by. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for visiting, Barbara. I now own the medal my mother is wearing in that photo, and it reminds me as much of her as it does my grandfather. You are right, the photographs mean more as the years go by, in part because they rekindle memories of times and places that would otherwise be forever lost.

      Delete
  5. Hello Mark, More people should develop a skill in photography. Pictures like these do so much more than just "record the moments". Even when I remember to snap a few photos of an outing or a friend's birthday, they are never like your grandfather's.

    I think that my favorite one here is the one with you and the toy camera. Once we know the story behind it, it has a remarkable quality of not only being a penetrating study of you at that age, but also reveals a lot about your grandfather and the relationship between you.
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Jim,

      I love my digital camera, but its instantaneous quality is in a way a double-edged sword. It's so easy to delete an image, or to share it without considerations like cropping or contrast, or color correcting. And while I enjoy working with color images, I've always believed that the most striking portraits are still in black and white.

      Regarding my grandfather, my parents moved within a block of him so that there would be a paternal influence nearby while my father was stationed in Korea for 18 months. My relationship to my grandfather therefore solidified at my most formative age, and I was a very lucky person for it.

      Delete
  6. My goodness, I've only just come across this. The photographs are seriously good and show your grandfather's skill. Thank you for sharing them. Forgive me for not remembering if you have disclosed this before, but was the Breguet side related to the Swiss watch makers?

    Hope you have enjoyed your Thanksgiving; my thanks for these images.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Columnist,

      Happy post-Thanksgiving, and thank you for enjoying my grandfather's photographs.

      I am indeed related to Abraham-Louis Breguet, and I posted about it here:

      http://allthingsruffnerian.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-tenuous-connection-to-marie.html

      If you read that posting, be sure to also read the little postscript. I think it will give you a chuckle,

      Delete
    2. Ah yes, thank you; it was in the back of my mind that you are related, but as you note, not blessed with the same skills!

      Delete
  7. Such beautiful evocative work, Mark. You are very fortunate to have this photographic legacy. Your grandfather was indeed a special person with a keen eye. I bet he would be proud of how you're sharing his work now online. Thanks for sharing this legacy with us, Mark.

    My talented daughter is doing what your grandfather did, she is photographing her daughter and son also with a keen eye and an innate enjoyment. They don't know it yet, but they will be happy in later years to have this legacy as well. By the way, I also liked your grandfather's still life - the cigarette smoke and the ship's painting in the background.

    I don't remember my own grandfathers at all. Nor my grandmothers. Though when I look at photos of them, there is a slight inkling. My father studied photography but not much of his work remains or for that matter, his paintings which somehow disappeared over the years. But I do have some photos and to my eye, they are quite wonderful though I don't know who took most of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Yvette,

      I'd like to believe that my grandfather has seen this posting and has enjoyed the fact that his photography is still appreciated, so thanks for adding your comment!

      It's great that your daughter is doing a thorough job of documenting her childrens' childhoods. My mother, as I mentioned in an earlier reply, was an avid scrapbooker, and today we have both family scrapbooks and scrapbooks pertaining to each son's childhood. One of the things I appreciate about my own childhood scrapbooks is that my mother saved the front page of the newspaper on each of my birthdays. That really puts one's life into an interesting perspective!

      Delete
  8. Dear Mark,
    My English is not good enough to express how touching and beautiful these photographs are, of you and your family. Your followers are so much better at it.
    They convey quiet reflexion, serenity, elegance and immense love.
    Thank you so much for sharing such precious images.
    Anyes
    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Anyes,

      As a second-generation American, I feel confident in saying that I'm sure your English is more exact and broader in vocabulary than that of most Americans! Thank you so much for enjoying my grandfather's photographs.

      Delete
  9. Mark,
    You've been holding out on us. These are fantastic! I feel like these should be assembled into an exhibit or a book. I think great art reflects its time and it seems that each of these hold some reference to that. I notice the license plate is from NY. Did your grandparents live in NY state?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Steve,

      Thanks for your lovely comment, it means a lot to me.

      As a matter of fact, I gift my niece and nephew each year at Christmas with a chapter of an ongoing family book that I call "Stories From Your Great-Grandmother." Because my background is in magazine and newspaper design, the chapters are of course formatted like a book, and illustrated with family photographs.

      Both sets of grandparents lived in New York — Rochester and Elmira — and my parents met in Ithica, where they went to college.

      Delete
  10. These are amazing!! how wonderful to have these and to have learned so much from him (obviously). Especially love the last one, fantasie.
    I'm sure if you still had your red car you would have JUST the spot for it; you're mr organization afterall!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Stefan,

      You are right to have read between the lines and surmised that my grandfather had a big impact on the formation of my character. And, he was a very organized and meticulous person! I think you know me well.

      Delete