This photograph shows my great-great-grandparents Albert Barker and Ellen Culpan with their children Mary Ellen, Louisa and Arnold. At first glance it's a pretty ordinary family portrait. However, there is something a little unusual about it.
It depicts a scene that never actually took place as, according to family story, it was created after Ellen's death. The surviving family posed for the photo and then Ellen was added in. Luckily for me, the story of the photo, and the original portrait of Ellen from which the image was created, were passed down through the family, as otherwise I think it would be quite easy to take it at face value.
There is a definite outline around the girl on the right which continues along her brother's shoulder but it would be easy to mistake this as being the result of movement or a fault in the process. There is a similar fault around the head of the girl on the left and along the top of the image.
Ellen died in 1892, aged 29. Presumably, there was no photograph depicting the whole family together and so it was decided to create one posthumously. I wonder if the portrait of Ellen dates from her engagement or marriage as her left hand, apparently wearing a ring, is quite prominently displayed. Albert and Ellen married in 1882 (see my previous post Marriage With Deceased Wife's Sister) and so Ellen may actually be somewhat younger than this image would first suggest.
I can't help wondering what was going through the minds of the family as they posed for this photo, leaving a gap for where Ellen should be. From the apparent ages of the children I think it must have been taken not long after Ellen's death and so they must still have been feeling her loss very keenly. To modern sensibilities the whole idea of the photo seems rather morbid but perhaps the family found it a comfort.
The image is a useful reminder that just because our ancestors didn't have Photoshop doesn't mean that every picture in the family photo album is necessarily “real”.