German family at the table

What it is:

Photo measuring approx. 4.25 x 5.25 inches.

What I know about it:

This photo is undated and unidentified.  But individuals in this photo also appear in this photo and this photo.  (I called them German because one of these photos was taken in Hamburg, but after all, it’s possible they are from elsewhere.)


I thought, “Oh, another picture of our happy Hamburg family, that will be nice!”.  (I believe the two people seated at the far left are the father and daughter from the fake boat picture.  It doesn’t seem that the mother from the boat is one of the people here at the table.)  Then I enlarged the photo, saw the little black doll, and thought, “Uh, oh.”  I decided to share it anyway, with the understanding that posting it doesn’t constitute my endorsement of any insensitivity on display here.  Of course, it’s not a particularly caricatured doll, and it could be said that automatically assuming any German of that era was racist is its own form of stereotyping.  (Consider also, I once knew an old, albeit non-German, lady of this generation who said she gave her children little black dolls precisely to teach them that racism is wrong.)  Yet why is the doll present on this occasion, and being held up for the portrait, almost as a joke?  For that matter, what is this occasion?   I’ll refrain for now from judging whether the doll is benign or sinister.  Meanwhile, there is much else to enjoy looking at, the furnishings, the clothing, the body language, and, as always, the faces.

9 comments on “German family at the table”

  1. It is a beautiful doll (not caricaturish), and I would like to assume that that is the reason it was included in this photo.

  2. So, it seems that the hyper wallpaper I’ve seen in so many early silent films was NOT invented for moving pictures. I went on youtube to find an example to illustrate what I mean, but instead I found this, which I’m posting just because it’s so funny and surreal (have a little patience with the pacing). Max Linder was actually French, but the subtitles here are in Russian. However, you won’t need them.

  3. I just realized I put “subtitles” when I meant “intertitles” (the correct term). : )

  4. Thank you for sharing that strange film, Harried Costumer!

    Matt, until you brought up the question about who is holding the doll, I assumed it was the bespectacled man!

    • I think you’re right, though I thought it might also be the woman seated next to him. They’re so crammed together. But his body language looks more like he’s doing the presenting for the camera.

  5. @M.O. (Since it seems like you’re interested) Max Linder was a major influence on Chaplin–I just read recently that Chaplin basically stole some of his bits, and even ideas for entire movies (I haven’t confirmed that myself). Linder didn’t seem to blame him for it, as they posed happily together for newsreel cameras. I think the main character in “The Artist” was also partially based on Linder (although the Douglas Fairbanks/John Gilbert influence is more obvious there).

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