For an upcoming social media campaign we needed to find an image of Robert Whaley. In looking through old pictures we came across several that depict him at different points in his life. Some very young and others very old (some that I had never seen before!). I think it’s interesting to look at pictures of the same person throughout their lives, particularly people that you don’t know, nor could you have ever known. We all laugh when we dig out pictures of our parents rocking mullets and 1970s puffy coats or cringe when we see our own pictures wearing some hideous fashion statement from the past, but for individuals from whom we are so far removed written words and pictures are all that we have. We have to look at an image and journal entry and try to figure out how that person sounded when they spoke, how they walked, and the kinds of mannerisms they used. You spend more time looking at various defining features (for Robert Whaley its his eyes, if you ask me) and trying to create a picture of them actually out in the world. I can recall a few years ago Lincoln exploded into popularity and the History Channel boasted having created some kind of digital representation of how Lincoln could have walked and moved around. It was amazing to see this person that we only had images of actually moving in his environment. With someone like Robert, though, we can only imagine what he was like.
In graduate school I actually focused on the American Revolution and had a slight obsession with Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, in that era we only have portraits, no actual images, obviously, so then it becomes even more difficult. You can still create a chronological timeline of paintings and look at the way he aged, but artists vary so much in their techniques and abilities it’s hard to hone in on those defining features. We are left with one person’s (the artist’s) interpretation, instead of a picture, like we have with Robert Whaley.
So today, enjoy these images of Robert Whaley. Look at his face and imagine what he may have been like to converse with. How would his voice have sounded? How would he have walked down Kearsley street or sat in his home? Have a little fun and share your ideas in the comments!