It’s the faces that captivate panoramic photo collector Lara Jo Hightower


We all have something – or somewhere – that sets off serotonin just by holding or seeing it: the woods where you grew up playing hide and seek, a cupboard full of your mother’s old copper cookie cutters, the room in your house that makes you feel the most peaceful. In the “My Favorite Things” report, we invite the people of Northwest Arkansa to share those special things or places that bring them joy.

Lara Jo Hightower wrote numerous profiles, art stories and features on regional artists, creators and world changers for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette until the first of this month, when she accepted a position. Marketing Associate for TheatreSquared. A resident of Fayetteville, she is an avid collector with a serious thrift store / garage sale / merchandise / flea market addiction since she started going to garage sales with her parents as a child. And now that we CAN write about one of her stunning collections, we couldn’t help but!

What I collect: Old and old panoramic photographs.

How / when / why the collection started: I found my first panoramic – an unidentified college faculty photo in what appears to be the 1940s – at a garage sale in Chicago, about 20 years ago. It was my first introduction to panoramic photography, and I was hooked.

What attracts you to these articles? All. I am a little obsessed with them. I think the main draw is the number of faces to look at – and such a variety of expressions. It’s easy to make up stories about what goes through someone’s head when the photo has been taken. I also like to look at the clothes that people choose to be photographed. Placement in the photo can be very interesting, especially when it comes to a working photo. I have a 1938 Dallas Garbage Division photo in which the majority of the men in the photo are dressed in their work clothes, with a few men in suits standing to the side – but one man in a shirt and tie , with his sleeves rolled up, sits in the front row in the middle of a row of hard-working sanitation workers. He has a big smile on his face and I like to imagine that he was the boss that everyone loved because he appreciated the hard work of the sanitation workers.

What is the most expensive item in the collection? The vast majority of my photos were found for $ 10 or less. I pride myself on spending as little as possible! But as the collection grew, I became a little more willing to spend more on something really unusual. I just spent around $ 130 (which is a LOT for me) on a panoramic photo of the reception at the White House for the Third International Conference of Associated Country Women of the World in 1936. This was an organization created in the 1930s to amplify the voice of rural women in politics and cultural affairs, which is a pretty cool thing to have been created around that time. There are several things that make this one so special that I would spend so much money on it. There are hundreds and hundreds of women in the photo, all scattered across the East Lawn with the White House in the background. Most of the photos I have showcase either fully or prominently men, so finding a panoramic that was almost entirely of women was exciting. They’re all dressed in their finery, which is quite an achievement considering 1936 was the end of the Depression years, and it’s so much fun looking at all of their different dresses. But perhaps the most exciting thing about the photo is that, in the distance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, can be seen standing on the White House balcony – and, yes, FDR is standing. , propped up behind a podium. I was so excited to find out.

Is there “one that got away” – that is, one you let go and regretted not buying? Oh my God, YES. When I lived in Chicago, there was a flea market a few blocks from my house, the Broadway Antique Mall. I went there at least twice a week and found this panoramic view of the citizens of a small town which was probably July 4th or some other citywide celebration. The subjects of the photos were grouped according to their position in the city – there was a full-uniformed marching band, uniformed police and firefighters – then the rest of the population, with some in military uniform, many children and a few dogs. It was fascinating, but at the time I was trying to build my collection with finds “in the wild” – that is, photos that I found in thrift stores and garage sales that were super cheap. This one was around $ 80, if I remember correctly, which I would pay today in the blink of an eye. I had a false sense of complacency because the photo was in that booth for months and months, and I relaxed thinking it was never going to sell, until one day, I went to visit her – and she was gone. I was heartbroken and I think about it every time I walk past my photo wall!

Is your collection finished or in progress? If it is in progress, will it ever be finished? It is in progress, and it will never be over. They bring me such joy that I could never let one go.

What is the most meaningful piece in your collection and why does it contain more emotions? Military groups are the most common types of these group shots, and they are quite easy to find. I have about six military photos, one taken in the middle of WWI, one taken in the middle of WWII. I find myself studying the faces of these men and wondering if they were scared or anxious, and if they came back after the war was over. I love them, but they also make me sad, so these are both the most meaningful pieces in my collection as well as the ones I avoid these days, unless there is something wrong with them. incredibly interesting about them which distracts me from thoughts of their mortality. My husband found one he gave me for Christmas this year. It’s a giant group of Navy men of all ranks on their ship – hundreds of them. From their uniforms I guess it’s around 1917 and it might make me really sad to think of these men about to go to war, but one of the sailors has a cat on his lap and men next to him have the biggest smiles, like it could have been enough fun, bringing the cat to his perch, so he quickly became one of my favorites.

Is there a white whale you are looking for? that is, is there a specific part somewhere that you are still looking for? I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until recently that I noticed the overwhelming lack of people of color in the panoramic photos I own – a real statement of segregation for most of the 20th century in this country. This is sobering because you are looking for hundreds of faces for only one that is not white – and not find a single one. My goal is to add more diversity to my collection, so that’s what I’m looking for these days.

What else do you collect? Uh, everything? I’m a magpie, a pack rat, a hoarder, and I love just about anything over 50 years old. Active collections include American pottery of all colors, my largest collection being matte white pottery; vintage floral prints for my bedroom walls; vintage bird prints; vintage and antique ornate mirrors; figurines of women; Toby pitchers; jugs in the shape of animals; cake plates; mixing bowls; the salt and pepper shakers; bar items; landscapes; portraits of women; and animal figures.

Do you have a collector or a favorite collection? We would like to know! Email Becca Martin-Brown, Editor-in-Chief, at [email protected]

Photo Lara Jo Hightower owns about two dozen vintage panoramic crowd photos, the oldest from 1917. She says she’s still on the lookout for more. (Courtesy photo)
Photo Hightower says this portrait of the White House reception for the Third International Conference of Associated Country Women of the World in 1969 is his favorite for several reasons: first, because it features one of the largest groups of people in each of his photos; second, because women’s dresses (and hats!) are so interesting to study; last, but not least, as the photo appears to include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, on the White House balcony in the background. (Courtesy photo)
Photo This 1938 Dallas Garbage Division photo is fascinating, Hightower says, because of the apparent big wig sitting on the floor in the front row, suit coat removed, and sleeves rolled up. (Courtesy photo)


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