The photographer used a canvas or paper backdrop. His seated figure is sharply drawn against its blankness; its negative space accentuates the strength of the pose. I can draw a straight line from the peak of his hat down through the center of his body. The uniform coat is wool. A Sam-Browne belt crosses his chest from left to right. A 38 caliber, six shot handgun, unseen here, is at his right hand. His tie is perfectly knotted, the dress collar of his shirt neatly tucked. His hair is short, a peppered gray; his eyebrows are thick. The Smoky the Bear hat frames his face so that all the viewer’s attention gathers on the lines created by his eyes, nose, tight mouth and chin tucked under the strap. His gaze is direct, unrelenting, penetrating. A dominant nose, almost a Roman nose, completes the upside down triangle begun by his eyes.
This is a portrait, and therefore the subject chose his position and bearing deliberately. There is not a trace of irony in the pose. The subject chose a combatant’s hard face.
This was my father, Charles Wall, who died in 2004. I want to know who he was before me — in Philadelphia as a little boy on Logan Street, during the 20’s, during the Depression, as a young man, as a police officer, as a man among other men, as someone with an inner life of which I have only the barest, fragmentary sense. His history bleeds into my history. This post begins my search.