The story behind the baby with the cigarette and the monocle.
Context is so much of what you understand when you experience an image.
Take the photo below. I came across it browsing. It’s published on a site I don’t know.
The photo clashes with our modern mores. It is exploitive, cheap, cynical. The child looks forlorn.
But the cultural context of our response can lose sight of the real story behind the shocking image, even as it retains its dignity across generations.
The description of the photo linked off to a reference to a London play from the turn of the century, The Little Stranger.
I did some digging and discovered on Google a curious little book presenting pictorial histories of many plays from the early 1900s.
Edward Garratt was the eponymous star of the farce, the small man who usurps a baby’s position and causes general havoc in a household.
Here’s Garratt’s publicity still from the playbill.
The young Garratt, infantilized for laughs on stage, was sentimentalized in the production notes:
Master Garratt has a sensitive and affectionate nature, he is fond of games of any kind, and is a thorough boy in all his tasks. The Criterion Company have made a great little pet of him, and although he likes to be made a fuss of by those around him, he is very shy of his public — except in the theater.
The photo is no longer shocking and inappropriate. The context has shifted. The young man was pulled from the streets to become a theater star, but the photos convey none of the glee and excitement that signal the dramatic surge of adrenaline. Garrett looks a little distant, put out. He’s a lad and he wants to be somewhere else.