The other day my son and I were talking. I was telling him one of the reasons why I like history:
"If you could see the people you read about in history books, you'd realize just how like us they really were."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that things like technology, vehicles, clothes...they all change; but people are really just the same. Our brains are more or less the same, we laugh the same, grow old the same. It's our tools and general knowledge that change. If you take someone today, say a skateboarder or nurse, and place that person in the past, he or she would look more or less the same. When I read history, that's what I see."
A case in point was the story that appeared recently in the Toronto Star about an auction at Christie's. Up for sale was a collection of memorabilia of Sir Charles Seymour Wright, a young Canadian who joined Robert Scott's tragic Antarctic expedition in 1910. After reaching the South Pole, Scott and four companions never made it back to base camp. Charles Wright was with a second group who traced Scott's final movements and found the tent.
The story in the paper brings Wright's exploits to life, but not so dramatically as an astounding photograph of Wright himself. Like some of the classic photographs of the past, this one stands out for its remarkable intensity. It shows Wright at around age 23, hair tussled, a few days' growth of beard, sunburned skin and white spots on his face. His eyes penetrate into the lens of the camera.
It's an amazing photograph because it looks so current: you could easily take this portrait to be that of a modern-day snowboarder, hiker or surfer. It's a bit of a shock when you realize that this photograph is a hundred years old, from another century.
See for yourself: the photograph and article from the Toronto Star can be found here.
History is a living thing.
The photo of the pharaoh statue in the corner is courtesy of Rodolfo Belloli.