Allan and Orville: Childhood Photograph

Once upon a time (but not so very long ago), parents didn’t run around with cameras snapping candid shots that would document every phase of their children’s development. To have one’s picture taken, to have one’s children’s picture taken, was a rare event and a special occasion. It’s not just that people got dressed up in their Sunday best, but also that their photographs had a different purpose and meaning.


Today, in our age of videocams and reality TV, we typically seek to capture the intimate, casual — and apparently spontaneous — detail of everyday life. Even when the scene has been set and the people have been posed, the goal is often to erase all traces of such staginess: as the subject of a photograph, you’re not supposed to look as though you know you’re having your picture taken.

Not so in my grandfather’s day, when the person in front of a camera was meant to be posing for a portrait. My grandfather really did play the violin, and perhaps his younger brother really did sometimes hold the sheet music for him. But the idea here was to offer not a snapshot from everyday life but rather a formal and highly stylized tribute or commemoration.

This studio portrait of my grandfather and his younger brother probably dates from about 1906 or 1907. It is my favourite family photograph.

Orville Alexander Moran (1901-1972) and Allan Jerome Moran (1897-1978), sons of Alexander Michael Moran (1872-1939) and Anna Maria Benton (1871-1947). Photograph taken at a studio in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.