Genealogy tools

Sidewalk photographers

The picture above is of my great-grandmother Mayme Belle Rhodes Creekmore walking down the street with her three daughters: Paula, Daphne and Millie. Paula (far right) is my grandmother. I always mix up my great aunts because they were close in age so I double checked. Daphne (who died a few years ago) was the middle child. Aunt Millie’s the baby on the far left.

I love this photo for so many reasons even though it’s horribly cropped. I love that they’re holding hands while striding down the sidewalk like four musketeers. I love how glamorous my great-grandmother looks. I laugh a bit at how short the girls’ dresses are. In my mind, the younger girls are wearing my grandmother’s hand-me-downs to save money and the fit isn’t right. I love how wild my grandmother’s hair is since I battle with my own hair. And I love how determined and in charge my grandmother looks with her eyes steadily looking ahead so as not to miss anything.

This image was captured by what my grandmother calls a street photographer. They were also known as sidewalk photographers.

Street photographers took pictures of people walking down the street and then handed them a slip for claiming the picture a few days later. It was a short-lived career field that began in the war years. The idea was to give a women a photo to send to their sweethearts fighting overseas. As more and more people got their own cameras and started shopping in the spacious shopping malls (instead of downtown), the business model died.

The photographers seemed to make downtown streets in fairly large cities their workplace. I believe the photo above was taken in Phoenix, Arizona. UPDATE: My grandmother believes it was taken in San Antonio, Texas.

Fred MacMurray actually played a street photographer in a movie. The film premiered in 1941, when street photography was a new-fangled thing.

So, if you come across a photo of your ancestor striding down a city sidewalk, now you know the history behind it.

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4 thoughts on “Sidewalk photographers”

  1. finding a wealth of amazing information on your site! am I missing any ability to ‘subscribe’ to keep up to date with your latest posts? I’m researching a book project and either would love to come back here for archival updates and inspiration, or chat with you re: some ascension parish/gonzales/donaldsonville stories I’m working on. My email is rhienna.renee at gmail dot com if you’re interested in connecting! Cheers.

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