In December, 1935, “The Crisis” annual children’s number, amongst Political Cartoons about Texas Lynchings, Ethiopia, and Educational Inequalities, there’s a studio portrait of a little girl and little boy sitting side by side (367). The caption names them as “George and Lucille Brantley/St. Louis, Mo.” George, in a sailor inspired outfit, smiles eyes wide, looking directly at the the camera. Lucille, in a dress with short lace sleeves, looks slightly to the right. Sixteen years later, in August-September 1951 issue we encounter Lucille again. No longer a child, she is the cover model for the Fortieth Annual Education Number. The biographical information explains that she is the daughter of G.D. Brantley, Principal of Sumner high school, who earned her M.S. degree in June of that year.
The early interrogation of The Crisis in Willis’ “Exposure” and the accompanying quote labelling it as “a kind of eugenic ‘family album’” (275) made me feel a sense of pride and confusion. While the first photo is one I wasn’t familiar with, I’ve intimately known the second photo most of my life. I know that in the photos Lucille is 5, and 21. If you ask her if she remembers sitting for the cover, her answer is “Hell no!! It might just be my graduation photo from grad school” . I know the narrative of her life outside of the photo because she is my Grandmother. A blown up copy of her cover graces the walls of my grandparents’ house.
The tension of photograph as larger social marker (aspirations/types) vs. family memento helps me understand the multiple lives and languages inherent in photographs of human subjects. As artifact, the Crisis is digitally available through Google. These photographs are available to anyone with a reasonable internet connection. Without this action having been done, I would have never seen the photograph of my grandmother with her brother when they were children. Nor would I have learned about the actions and photographs of their father that the Crisis chronicled throughout his career. For me the Crisis is a family album.
1. Phone Interview, October 26, 2012