Photographers have been taking baby pictures since…well, since cameras were invented. My great-grandfather, Harris Stilson, took hundreds of photos of infants and toddlers. His streetcar route placed him on Richmond’s streets in the early 1900s and his camera never left his side. He took an inordinate number of pictures of his grandchildren but other photographs were commissioned. Some images were hand-tinted, probably by Harry’s daughter, Anita.

Harry's grandson Howard

Harry’s grandson Howard

Harry's granddaughter, Margaret Lynch

Harry’s granddaughter, Margaret Lynch

Harry gets fancy

Harry gets fancy

 

HDL tinted pic

Not today's Dr. Brown's bottle

Not today’s Dr. Brown’s bottle

His photo business supported his hobby and his journal records fees, usually 15 cents. Most pictures are of unidentified children but customers included neighbors, relatives, and streetcar passengers. His journal entries list his subjects but most photographs are not labeled.

baby oval

baby in high chair

baby in hat

baby in fur or something

He even “worked” on vacations (Journal entry written at Virginia Beach: “9/17/18 Took pictures Mrs. C.H. Walls and baby & mother-in-law, 214 E. 26th St Norfolk Va) and mailed the photos after returning to Richmond and his darkroom.

For his poorer customers, these images were treasured. Money was scarce and essentials left little for photographs so Harry Stilson, “the poor man’s photographer,” was a blessing to those along his Jackson Ward streetcar route. Journal entries like the following have me poring over baby pictures in an attempt to match dates with pictures.

11/10/17    Baby Dunkum   113 Vine, portrait     Baby Boone,   118 Vine

8/23/18     Mahoney       3 folders of baby c/oMrs. Nelson

2/18/19     colored baby 1734 W. Leigh

We all search the faces of babies for resemblances to relatives. My daughters Anne and Molly first noticed a likeness in one of my triplet grandbabies to my side of the family (and Harry’s). What you think…does Leland look like her great-great aunt Norma KathleenLynch?

Leland as NKL  IMG_1808

I’ve often said that Harry would love today’s technology and it’s true. He was an innovative photographer in his day, inserting people into pictures that they missed (an early version of Photoshopping, I guess.) He would be intrigued by Gina Thompson’s photographs of Anne & David Shultz’s triplets. Unlike Harry, who retired to a closet to develop images, Gina worked from her computer to create a collection of the cutest three babies around. On disk. Flashdrives. Harry would be in his element.

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Harry climbed towers and walked out on roofs to get his shots. Gina hovered over babies on ladders, crawled on the floor, and bent into impossible positions to capture these delightful expressions and poses. She’s the hardest-working photographer I know and you can talk to her about photographing your own memorable collection of baby pictures (or any other kind of pictures), call her at (804) 739-3780. Decades from now, your great-grandchildren can exclaim over YOUR photographs. You never know…your great-grandchild just might be a dead-ringer for you.

 

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