Friday, May 1, 2015

Why Many Families Have Sidewalk Photographs

In the above photo, Beatrice Valara Pierce (1921-1993), left, is walking on a sidewalk in downtown Mobile, Alabama, with friend and neighbor Laverne Brannan. This photo was probably taken at Royal and Dauphin streets.

Sidewalk photography was a style that boomed during the Great Depression and World War II years. The Footnote Maven on her blog Shades of the Departed, featured a column by the Educated Genealogist Sheri Fenley, who researched the history of this form of photography.

Because of the hard times not many people were coming into photo studios to have their pictures taken. So photographers went out on the sidewalks to drum up business.

Fenley wrote that “Saturdays were the day of the week that most folks came to town. People would be strolling down the main street, unaware that their photo was about to be taken. After the cameraman snapped their photos, he would approach them and offer a coupon or business card.” The coupon allowed the customer to buy the photo for a small fee at the studio.

As in almost everything else in life, con artists also operated on the sidewalks. Fenley said that during World War II, a number of unscrupulous so-called photographers preyed on soldiers on furlough. “They snapped the serviceman’s photo and for a price (to be paid up front) they would promise to mail the photo to a loved one back home. An investigation into these ‘pestilential sidewalk photographers’ found that not only did they neglect to mail the photos as promised, their cameras were completely devoid of film!”


  1. Great article! I have always wondered what the story was behind these photos! Pat