Cat Photos and Humans
Do you have a cat? Do you like cats? Do you enjoy hilarious photos of cats or cat memes? I bet the answer to at least one of those questions is a yes, unless you are firmly and exclusively in the “dog person” camp. Regardless of your convictions, cat videos, photos, and memes are fundamental to present internet culture.
Sometimes I wonder what a person from the past would think of social media, and moreover, what would they post? Pictures of nights out with their sweethearts to the dance hall or movie theatre? Grim selfies of them not smiling? Cats memes, perhaps? People from the past can feel so distant from us because there is so much we do not know about their personal lives. Currently, nearly everyone has a personal handheld device with which we can document and share our lives, thoughts, emotions, and experiences instantly if we choose. We can feel close and connected to loved ones who live across the world from us, people from different cultures, even people we have never met. But people of the past had no such devices or social media. In fact, cameras were expensive and cumbersome pieces of equipment that, often being fully manual, required expertise to operate.
The Crowsnest Museum is incredibly honoured to house a collection of renowned photographer Thomas Gushul’s photography. Not only did Thomas, his wife Lena, and their son Evan provide photography sessions for graduations, baptisms, weddings, family portraits, and more, but they thoroughly documented their community and personal lives in a way that truly provides a lens into their lived experience. In addition to the sheer number of photographs in the Gushul collection, they are remarkably well preserved. Digging through the archives of thousands of photographs of stunning quality gives one an eerie feeling of familiarity, and so that feeling of distance between the past and present seems to shrink. But it is the endearing photos of the Gushuls and family with their beloved cats that really charmed me as a viewer.
Lena Gushul with Cat
Looking at old photos, we are accustomed to seeing people with serious expressions, even at happy events like weddings. This could be for many possible reasons such as long exposure times, cultural influences, or even poor dental health. This is obviously in contrast to the standard of smiling for photos today, and so the serious faces of the past give the sense of distant times gone by. But the photos of the Gushuls having fun in the studio with their cats truly bring the past to life. They are vibrant and animated, as opposed to stiff and sombre. They are not so different from us now.
Evan Gushul with Cat on Hat
Despite the many differences between then and now, people still loved their cats for the funny creatures they are. They still wanted to document and share the strange things their cats did. They reckoned a photograph of their cat with its tongue out was well worth the film and processing time. The people behind the sometimes sombre faces of the past had lives as rich and complex as our own: each and every one of them. I think the Gushuls would appreciate our enduring affinity for cats.
Cat with Tongue Out