By Maggie Benson
The Birmingham Public Library is again hosting “Common Bonds: Birmingham Snapshots from 1900-1950,” a free exhibit showcasing the people of Birmingham during a time of great division.
The “common bonds” are easily spotted throughout the exhibit, as people during that time tended to gravitate toward certain aspects of life. “Clearly something in human nature commands that there are certain things, certain milestones, that we want to remember, we want to memorialize and that cross all boundaries,” said Jim Baggett, head of the archives department at the Birmingham Public Library. “People were taking the same photographs, whether they were rich or poor, black or white, living in 1910 or 1950, they all took the same photos.”
The theme of the exhibit came to Baggett by chance when he was looking through images and came across one in particular. “It is of an African-American couple. They’re on an outing, probably a picnic, sitting on a downed tree and I thought, ‘I have seen this picture before.’” He had not seen this picture before, but another that looked very similar. “When you put the two side by side, they’re almost mirror images of each other, except one young couple is black while the other is white.”
From there, the over-arching theme of common bonds and the categories “developed organically as the exhibit was created,” Baggett said.
The collection has several categories: mothers with their babies; guys with their cars; friends being goofy; and others “that designed themselves as we went through thousands and thousands of images,” recalled Baggett.
All the categories in the exhibit host over 300 photos that Baggett claims “serve to remind us that Birmingham is a very American city, much like any other — it’s very much a part of the American story.”
Yet, as American as these photos seem, they are also relatable to people all over the world.
This exhibit has traveled quite a bit during its lifetime. Its longest trip, however, was to the Reykjavik Museum of Photography in Iceland. The exhibit drew visitors from Iceland, Norway, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Baggett said the most surprising thing about his time in Iceland with the exhibit was “people commented over and over again on how familiar these images were to them — they looked like their family photos.”
Baggett goes on to say that he has seen snapshots from all around the world and “the interest in different aspects of our lives that we want to remember and preserve is a common, universal thing. It’s human nature.”
The exhibit is currently featured at the Birmingham Public Library, in the fourth-floor gallery, where it will remain until Aug. 31. “Common Bonds: Birmingham Snapshots from 1900-1950” is a family friendly attraction .
For more information about the exhibit, contact Baggett at 205-226-3631.