Further Adventures in the Library of Congress Flickr Feed

I haven’t had the time to wander around in the ol’ LOC Flickr feed for a while, but today seems like a good day to go back. Today we tread on the edges of humor.

When I was an undergraduate, one of my wonderful suitemates was a Japanese student on exchange from Waseda University (whose school song I still sorta-kinda remember how to sing, although my Japanese language skills are, to be honest, absolutely terrible). That’s why the name caught my eye when I ran across this picture, taken sometime between 1915 and 1920:

Waseda students - Japan (LOC)

This is a pretty representative Taishō period image — the men are dressed in a combination of Japanese and non-Japanese clothing (the straw boater is not, as far as I know, indigenous to Japan…), and the architecture of the building behind them is Western; one commenter on the photo at Flickr seems to think this was taken in someplace like Hawaii (judging by the building, the soil, and the apparent temperature), but I personally think he’s reading too much into the way the photo-plate captured the image. I do wonder, as I look at this photo, what its context is. Why were the students dressed in this particular way, walking toward the camera, etc.? Was this a club? A group staging a photo for a joke, or a memory? There’s something playful about the whole thing (especially the guy on the center-left, tipping his brim while he struts, and the grinning man on the far left), as if they’re putting on some serious moves as a form of play. I feel like they’re doing a kind of parody of something, but I don’t know enough about them to know what that “something” is. I am reminded of a “family photo” that a bunch of my students handed out as a Christmas card one year — a group of young men in ugly sweaters and Santa hats, looking just as semi-serious as one does in the sort of family postcard pictures taken at mall photo studios.

It’s the oddest feeling — suspecting there’s a joke and just not being able to see it, wary of committing to laughter because it may turn out to be entirely serious and not a joke at all. It’s also odd, now that I think about it, to find a joke where none is seriously intended. That’s how it feels when I look at this lovely portrait of then-Col. Christodolou:

Col. Christodoulou (LOC)

I just can’t help myself — that mustache cracks me up every time! I know it shouldn’t — the man himself was a well-respected Greek officer on the Macedonian front in WWI. The mustache he’s sporting would not have been regarded as unusual or particularly comic by his peers (indeed, one suspects that he styled it for this portrait precisely because it needed to be styled in such a way to suit the formal occasion). Just the same, it is hilarious to me. It doesn’t help my urge to giggle when I look at the other features of his face, either. This is a man with a twinkle in his eye, and the crow’s feet that come from laughter, not just from squinting a lot. Something about the set of his lips, too, suggests barely suppressed mirth, as if the photo itself were amusing, or as if he were in an especially cheery mood that day. His expression isn’t serious so much as it is schooled to seriousness. Of course, it’s possible that the styling of the mustache itself is obscuring some of the relevant muscles of his face, and that he’s just looking serious and open-eyed, with no mirth at all. He could be grim and intense, as far as I know from one old photo. Still, I find I like imagining him breaking into a sort of mild laughter once the photo is done. He looks to me like someone who laughed readily, and who had the kind of laugh that was infectious.

It’s hard to know when to laugh…


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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