29 November 2010

Some types of unknowable information

Whenever I see an old picture of a street scene or a landmark where some unidentified people are also visible, I usually wonder about them. Who were they? What did they do? What sorts of lives did they live?

Here is a street scene from the Galata district of Istanbul. The picture dates from 1888. Note the Ottoman gentleman walking side by side with a woman carrying an umbrella by the horse carriage.


So who were they? Where were they going? What had they had for breakfast that morning? Can we ever have answers to any of those questions?

It is possible in this case some of that information exists. The photographer or someone else who witnessed the taking of the picture might have known the identity of that couple and recorded it somewhere. And that record may still exist.

The couple by the horse carriage was Mehmet Baha Efendi and his wife Behice Hanim.

But it is much more likely that no such record was ever taken or if it was indeed taken, it has since been lost. Therefore, in all likelihood we will never know who those people were.

Not that it matters to know who they were. Even if I knew the information was available somewhere, say, in a library in Istanbul, I wouldn't bother to look it up. I don't actually need to have answers to any of those questions. What intrigues me is not the identities of the forgotten people of the old pictures, but the fact that the information about them is unattainable; it is lost forever.

We will never know who the people in the horse carriage were either.

5 comments:

Deniz Bevan said...

I like pondering these things too. Sometimes it leads to a story...

Cindy said...

I always think about that kind of stuff, too! My favorite is when I walk past a house at night, and I can see just a little illuminated vignette through the window. Sometimes it's the kitchen window, and someone will be visible, washing dishes after dinner. What did they have to eat? Who else was at the table? What did they talk about?

Of course, that's not exactly the same thing as your picture, where everyone, and likely many of the buildings and vehicles have been lost to time and memory. But it's the same if you think about how every person, every being has a life and a story, and each one is compelling in its own way, and we can never know more than just a tiny fraction of them.

Too profound for my feeble brain...

Anonymous said...

nonsense type of attitude..Hundreds of billions of people passed through life.. Just showing a momentary need to be romantic.. or..

Lisa M. (chiroxiphia) said...

I am like you, wondering about the people in the photo (or the vignette seen through people's windows), but I kind of like the mystery too: I like constructing alternate histories for the people. With no information, all scenarios are equally likely!

Kazimir Majorinc said...

I also think that way. It always cross my mind that maybe some of these people are still alive, even if picture is taken 120 years ago. Then I start wondering why all people do not have some small biography, at least 10 pages.