Time Traveller's Diary

Michelle Johnson, Collections & Exhibitions Coordinator

Aurora at Home

A yellowed black and white photograph of people and pets relaxing on a veranda, with one woman in a hammock, a man and woman sitting on the stairs, the man in a brimmed hat and holding a paintbrush and bucket of paint.
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Home of Oscar Stephens, 16 Maple Street, c. 1902 (80.7.1)

Itching to go for a walk and wander through a different time I set the dial for the early 1900s. As I was strolling through the neighbourhood of Maple and Spruce Streets, I noticed that one family was gathering on their front porch and a camera was being set up on the lawn. I thought back to the archival collection at the Aurora Museum & Archives and remembered that some of our earliest photos show families on their porch, or in front of their homes, posing for a front yard portrait. I realized that I was witnessing one of these portraits in real time.

 

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Davis House, Yonge Street North, c.1900 (83.50.1)

 

During the mid-1880s, photography became accessible to the masses thanks to a new technology that used a readymade dry gel-on film. Up until this time, photography was limited to professional photo artists who used fragile plates, complicated chemical kits, and heavy equipment to capture images.

 

 

 

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Brownie 2A Camera, Model B, c. 1909 (990.8.6)

 

In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company produced the first inexpensive hand held camera, known as the Brownie. With the invention of the Brownie the masses could now own a portable camera and take their own pictures outside of a professional studio setting. After a closer look, I realized that it was in fact a Kodak Brownie that was being used by the family.

 

 

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Graham Family, 64 Centre Street, 1941 (2004.44.5)

There are many reasons why people posed in the front yard, some technical (lighting requirements and exposure) as well as some aesthetic (barrier free space and nicer backgrounds). Beyond the technical and aesthetic reasons, photographs were captured in the front yard for a much simpler reason – the front yard was an extension of the indoor living space. Families would regularly gather on their front porch, or in their yard, and it was only natural to capture a portrait while doing so.

 

As I continued my walk, I thought back to the present day and the challenges our world is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I quickly realized that the tradition of the front yard portrait could be a valuable tool for documenting these unusual times.

 

 

With that in mind, I challenge our readers to take a photo of themselves, and their household members, on their front porch and share it to their social media accounts. Of course, please follow the physical distancing protocols and only go outside if you are legally permitted to do so. If you can’t leave your home, please feel free to snap a picture of yourself inside!

 

Help us document the self-isolation aspect of Aurora’s COVID-19 experience by sharing your photo to social media and use the hashtag #Auroraathome – together we will overcome this.

 

Originally published in The Auroran – February 18, 2021

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