Caught Our Eyes: Playing with Shadows

Reference Librarian Ryan Brubacher added this photo by Toni Frissell to our “Caught Our Eyes” wall for sharing pictures from the collections with our colleagues, noting that it had caught her eyes again. She recalls encountering it first because it was one of the hundreds of photos featured in the landmark “Family of Man” exhibition that Edward Steichen organized for the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, which has been the subject of much subsequent scholarship. But changing circumstances allowed her to view the image with new eyes:

I’d seen this image before, but not since being a mother of a young boy. The exploration of shadow was very true to my own son’s explorations, but also I was moved by the way Frissell frames him on the infinite sand to highlight how small he seems even when he is trying to be so big. The shadow helping him pretend at bigness – limbs outstretched, also betrays him. At once he is big and little – like most young children.

"My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1944. //

“My Shadow” from A Child’s Garden of Verses. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1944. //

Frissell also published the photo in an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses that she illustrated with her photographs (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1962, c1944; view catalog record for the 1962 edition).

Can you guess which poem this accompanied? (I definitely recall “My Shadow” from my childhood; it begins, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…”)

Frissell dedicated her version of A Child’s Garden of Verses to her children, Varick and Sidney, and their friends, whose pictures appear on the pages; she added a salute to her childhood nurse who apparently also cared for Frissell’s children. The photos depict children in all seasons, but carefree activities at the beach and other encounters with nature came in for a good share of attention, as suggested by her photo of her daughter, below.

Toni Frissell's daughter Sidney as "The Wind" in A Child's Garden of Verses, Southhampton, Long Island. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1944. //

Toni Frissell’s daughter Sidney as “The Wind” in A Child’s Garden of Verses, Southhampton, Long Island. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1944. //

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