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Augustus Martin’s photo “The Farewell” is the kind of old, weird image you can get lost in. It’s a group of friends, including the photographer himself, with his handlebar moustache and debonair gaze, sitting in front of a banjo player handing something to the woman beside him. Unlike many of Martin’s images of everyday life in Lenox Dale, this one has a specific date — March 11, 1901 — right before he briefly moved away from the Berkshires only to return after a few months. The question of just what is going on here hangs in the air.
For Molly Rideout, the 2021 writer-in-residence at The Mount, the image is an opportunity and a challenge. There are things that can be learned about these peoples’ lives and what brought them together, but there remains that shadow of unknowability over every ordinary person’s life in the past. There is an invitation to fill in the story, and to explore why we feel we have to do so.