My wife and I found this framed composite portrait at an antique store in Dubuque, Iowa. The only identifying mark, front or back, is the etched signature of the photo studio: Tasker’s.

Whenever I pause to look at this portrait, I find myself thinking about human connections — and the strangely unsettling way that photography has distorted our grasp of time’s passage.

Although these young women posed for this portrait many decades ago, I have no idea what may have happened to them: how long they lived; where their hopes and dreams took them; how much they were loved by friends and relatives; how they looked in later years.

Their clothes and hairstyles tell us their world was far different from ours. Their thoughts and fears, their beliefs and prejudices, everything they knew and all they would come to know — took shape in their minds through vastly different learning processes and social filters.

Some of these women clearly seem to be from another era. But several of them appear to be utterly timeless. I might expect to see them at a mall, or in a restaurant, or waiting to ride the “Incredible Hulk” coaster at Universal Studios.



Take a close look at the red silhouette on the packaging for Sudafed PE Triple Action. The first time I saw it, I immediately recognized the upturned jaw, the heavy brow and the unmistakable arc of the forehead: They belonged to John Ehrlichman, a presidential assistant in Richard Nixon’s White House and a key figure in the Watergate scandal.
(If the makers of Smith Brothers Cough Drops are smart, they’ll ditch their bearded namesakes in favor of pen-and-ink sketches of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.)

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