Sonwyn

This album starts in the early 1940s and carries on through the 1960s. There are 200 photos in all. It features mainly Sonny and Wyn. It is touching to find out later in the album that they called their home together ‘Sonwyn’. Sonny and Wyn have style, which leads me to believe that the name of their house was influenced by the Hollywood movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Their home, a headline-grabbing star-studded cosmopolitan hub through the most of the 1930s, was called ‘Pickfair’.

This album begins like any couple’s album: the two betrothed on bonding holidays before they tie the knot — just the two of them appear in each shot. But you turn a page and they have a 16-year-old son. As you continue through the album, you begin to realise that, unusually, their teenage son, Henry, is the main photographer and the compiler of the album — the inscriptions are his.

My instinct is that Henry is a child from a former marriage. Family albums like this normally start when the children are much younger, and it is more likely that either one of the parents is chief photographer. There are many shots of just Henry and his mother together, looking relaxed, bonded. But there are only two shots of just Henry and Sonny together. In the first, they both look uncomfortable; in the second, they have their backs to the camera — always distance between them. If ever all three of them appear in a shot, Wyn is standing between the other two. I think Henry is the child from Wyn’s first marriage. This explains why, at the beginning of the album, Sonny and Wyn look like young lovers, although both appear to be in their forties.

As the album continues through the 1940s, people in uniform start to appear more frequently. About halfway through, the photographs change to a square, smaller, sepia format. Taken by a 21-year-old Henry, they document his tour of duty in bombed-out Europe in 1946. The journey across the channel, both there and back, is covered — from a battered troupe ship we see the white cliffs of Dover hove into view.

Later, the format changes again, to portrait shape this time, in true black and white. The album ends like a typical empty nesters’ album: an ageing Sonny and Wyn, enjoying their bucket-list foreign holidays. With Henry gone, Sonny is now the main photographer, which means that most of the closing shots are of his wife alone, or landscape shots that never manage to capture the moment. 

Nigel Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

One thought on “Sonwyn

  1. There are some very touching images here, a nice find. I think the one of the woman in the distance in the dark forest background is amazing. And the photo of her again in front of the house with the name plate. I think this would be home-made, you could buy the plastic letters individually from hardware shops, so it’s nice to think of them making a block of wood and doing this.

    Like

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