A Remarkable Discovery in Paris – Will Your Family Photos End Up in a Flea Market?
Wandering Montmartre in Paris, I browsed Brocante des Abbesses, an antiques market. As I sifted through vintage accessories, art and furniture, an eclectic mix of bizarre bric-a-brac and common household items emerged. Meandering through kiosks, I saw everything from a bed pan with an eyeball painted on it to tarnished silverware. But as usual, I gravitated toward the old photos. Flipping through stacks of vintage photographs – faded, bent and torn – I carefully handle each one as if it were a work by Cartier-Bresson. Most of the vintage pictures are of churches, vistas and farms from the 1920’s. Then something special catches my eye: a small book with a leather string hinge. I open it and discover five small photographs with lace cut borders. They are stunning portraits of a man and a woman in the south of France. The album begins in the summer of 1928 with the couple’s honeymoon, a road trip. I flip through the album, page after page, revealing beautiful bits and pieces of the lives of a mysterious couple, their friends and their child. This remarkable discovery in Paris made me wonder, will your family photos end up in a flea market someday? Will mine?
I continued perusing the album, finding more artful images of vacations, explorations up mountains, and sightseeing at castles and palaces. I felt like I’d discovered an unknown talent, a great photographer. These vintage photos must have been hidden for years in a dusty box in an attic. The find, to me, echoes the tale of Vivian Maier.
For me, these intimate family photos have intrinsic value. Looking through them, I see myself and my husband Ryan. It’s like looking at ourselves in another era. Though this couple lived many years ago, they were enjoying things we enjoy today; they weren’t much different than us. I promptly paid the 25 euro price for the photo album, even though the dealer mentioned it wasn’t even worth 20. He didn’t see what I saw – the artistic quality and careful composition of each photograph.
I am baffled when I ask myself why this treasure trove of family photos was unwanted, lost or discarded.
The youngest person in the photographs, a young girl, seems to be about 7 or 8 years-old. There is a chance that she is still alive today. The little girl’s father is noted as “Camille” throughout the album. Each location they visited, even names of the places they stayed, are carefully listed. That was all I knew about this family, until I came home from Paris.
At home, I started scanning the old photos and reviewing them in larger formats. That’s when I discovered a clue in one of the images. Dating from the summer of 1932, there’s a sweet photo of Camille and his daughter at Soulac Sur-Mer near Royan, France. They’re holding hands in the lake. On the chest of Camille’s swim suit, there’s a star of David. Immediately my heart sunk. The fate of French Jews at the beginning of the 1940’s is a tragic one. Most of the families never returned to Paris. Was that the fate of this family? I want to think the reason I have this old album is because it was simply misplaced during a recent estate sale. Yet I know a darker truth may be real, too. Regardless, I want to share the information I have, in hopes that someone in the family is looking for this stunning collection of images. After all, photography is our link to the past and every family deserves a legacy as lovely as this one.
About the author: Erika Rowell and her husband Ryan are the owners of Rowell Photography, a portrait and wedding photography company located in Ontario. Newlyweds themselves, with a passion for life, family, and travel, Erika and Ryan feel blessed that they have an amazing opportunity to photograph life as they see it. Erika loves connecting with people who believe in the power of photographs. Her original blog post about the Paris Photo Album appeared in Sunday Crush.