Take a look at these photos, taken sometime toward the middle of the 1940s, during WWII.
The place: My maternal grandmother’s front yard. The family lived in the second story apartment there until completing a house on Mississippi in 1951. The little boy is my older brother, wearing as spiffy an ensemble as I’ve ever seen him in! My brother is a Levis and Nebraska Huskers t-shirt kind of guy now, and he wears a baseball cap. My guess is it’s springtime, and my brother is playing with a Christmas wheelbarrow. I need to ask…!
“Shadow man” is my father, wearing a civilian hat, so I guess this was a Sunday. My Dad was Chief of Police in this town, and most photos of him then show him in uniform. The town had a major air base training people for the glider and parachute aspects of the D Day invasion. My Dad worked very hard then because he had a small staff meant for a smaller town and thousands of soldiers with not much to do after training but come into town. Many married the mothers of my friends growing up. No coincidence!
Anyway, this is a favorite photo of Dad because it shows him relaxed, off duty, and doing what fathers do: taking photos of their little guys at play. And…accidentally getting themselves in the photo, if as a shadow. Or maybe it was on purpose. Dad’s gone — he died on election day 2008 — but he was a very purposeful, methodical man. There is a suggestion of a composed shot here.
Then, there is this second shot in the sequence, a more spontaneous yet more mysterious image. Same setting. Same brother. Same father taking a photo as a shadow man.
There’s a change in angle, though, one brought about by my brother’s burst to go to Dad. Dad takes another shot, capturing something I’d never noticed in this photo before: a third person standing by the locust tree, both shadows on the left, while the photo’s taken.
It appears to be a male. Or is it? Who might it be, this new “shadow man”? Yet, he appears higher in the photo than he should were he just standing by the tree. Was he actually a child, a child standing on the bird bath by that tree? If a child, did Dad know he was standing on the birdbath? I don’t think that was generally allowed…! We’ll never know.