Things I Love: Old Photographs of People I Don’t Know

Josie, Bertha, and Sophie. Cannery workers, 1912. Image from the Library of Congress,

Josie, Bertha, and Sophie. Cannery workers, 1912. Image from the Library of Congress,


Old photographs are magical. They stir my imagination.

Like this photo of the three girls. They were workers at a South Carolina cannery in 1912. Shuckers of oysters. Each girl tells a story with her facial expression. What were they thinking at that moment?

And this photo:


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Arkansas, 1935. She shares her defeat with us. What did she think about the person behind the camera taking away with him a glimpse of her life?

Here’s another:


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London, 1940. A boy reading in a bombed bookshop. My first thoughts when I saw this photo: What book is he reading? Is his family alive? What’s in the package?

And this one:


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Kentucky, 1964. Twelve children, poverty, and the mother is … smiling? What gave her the strength and joy to handle it?

The questions that come to mind when I see photos like these often give me story ideas. I have a photo fiction board on Pinterest where I collect images that I’m saving or that I’ve used as writing prompts.

The girl in the cotton field photo is now the main character of a story I’m working on. My goal is to write her sadness away. Read my post to see what I have planned for the girl I named Netta.

Not all photographs I choose to add to the collection are old. One of my favorites is an award-winning color photo from 2006, a homeless man keeping his dog warm on a winter day in Toronto. With it I wrote one of my first photo fiction stories.

There is no shortage of photos for me to enjoy in this way. I visit the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution sites for their collections of photos from times gone by. Pinterest has boards full of old photographs. Whole websites are devoted to sharing the past through images.

Why do these photos appeal to me? It may be that I love studying American history. It may be that I long for the lost (and never taken) photos of my own family. It may be that special something about old photos: Cameras were once a novelty and a photo session was a special occasion. The lens caught raw, real life and its people.

Whatever the reason for it, I love looking deeply into old photographs and wondering about the people I see.

Do old photos grab you as they do me?


Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

5 Comments Write a comment

  1. Powerful and inspiring, Darla. You would make a wonderful facilitator for a writing workshop. All of these pictures would make amazing writing prompts.
    I want to read Netta’s story ~ I remember her hat from before? ~ and I thought at the time that the hat could be a story in itself.


    • Thank you, Marylin. Yes, in my first post about that image, I mention her hat. It’s an important part of the story, but I have yet to figure out the how and why! I just know that I want it to be.


  2. beautiful pictures each with its own story we may never know. Like you I am fascinated with old pictures. I always wonder too about the stories behind them and are always drawn to thier eyes.


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