20th Century

Oakland, 1912

I love old photographs: the details of clothes and faces in them, imagining what happened just before and after the photograph, and the stories of the people in them.

This is one of my favourite old photographs:

Abdu'l-Baha at Helen Goodall's home in Oakland, CA, 1912

Click through to the large version and look at all the details in it.  The girl in the tartan dress, regarding the camera so seriously.  The suntanned woman in the bottom right corner, crossing her arms and grinning in delight.  The man peeping out from behind the ivy at upper centre left (and the one that is even more hidden amidst the ivy, can you find him?).  The man with the truly impressive mustache holding the placard in the centre.  The adorable little boy at centre front, trying to sit still for the picture, while his even more adorable little sister slides off his fathers lap.

That’s what I notice first.  That, and the focus of the picture: the turbaned man in white at the centre of the group.

That man is ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and he is the reason for the more amazing, and interesting, details in the photo that you might not notice at first.  The huge mix of social status and wealth evident in the clothes (though it is all best dress).  The mix of races, of ages, of knowledge – all their differences erased by a greater love of unity, and a love for ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

‘Abdu’l-Baha was the son of the Baha’i prophet, Baha’u’llah, and for Baha’is he the perfect example of how to live a Baha’i life: one marked by love, humility, and service.  Today is the Day of the Covenant, the day in which Baha’i’s celebrate ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s service to God and the Covenant we have made with God: that in deepening ourselves spiritually, and striving for unity, we will become closer to God.

There is so much more to write, and tell you, and explain.  So much more about that photograph, and how a man from Persia, a man who spent most of his life as a prisoner, came to pose with a group of everyone in Oakland California in 1912.  In a way though, the photograph says it all for itself.


  1. I love old photos too, particularly of my Grandma, who was quite the clothes horse in the early 1900s.

  2. I noticed that guy in the ivy right away.. What a lovely old photo..

    The other day I photo-bombed someone who was taking “tourist” photos in Ikea… Buuuaaaahahaha.

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