Theodor und Dorothea Schweim, Kiel, c. 1915

UNDATED – Theodor Schweim and his wife Dorothea Grebien pose for the photographer in Kiel, Germany. Scan © by Mark Zanzig/

The story behind the image

Deep in the family archive I found this photo of my grand-grandparents, Theodor and Dorothea. Both were born in 1857 in Northern Germany: Theodor in the area of Ahrensbök, and Dorothea in Malkwitz near Malente.

Sadly, the photo does not carry any information concerning its origin. Not when it has been shot. Not where it has been shot. However, being the photo detective of the family, I’ve done some research.

The physical image is a cropped photo print on the back of a postcard. It has not run as a postcard, but apparently this specifc technology had been used between 1910 and 1920. What’s more, it’s also not made of the very sturdy cardboard that’s typical for CdVs that were common until around 1910. It’s made from relatively lightweight paper. I found some interesting information on the Mandelette Postcard Camera that triggered a trend for street photography with ad-hoc processing. While the Mandelette was a US-based invention, similar technology was available in Europe, too. (And yes, Scott’s Photographica Collection, where I found the information, is a great site if you’re interested in photo history.)

And then there is the fashion. While not being a fashion expert, I’d say Dorothea’s clothes were rather of the 1910 to 1915 period. She probably could not afford latest High Street fashion and would wear her “fine clothes” only for a nice walk in the park on a Sunday, or for a visit to the photographer.

Two things bugs me with this picture, though: their looks, and the background.

  1. The looks on their faces. I think they look surprised, somehow unprepared, especially Theodor. Just as if someone had stopped them in the middle of their walk and asked them for a photograph – and not like a normal photo shooting. Theodor even looks as if he did not want to take the photo at all.
  2. The perspective. It looks strange and – in my view – seems to not match the perspective of the people. Their legs were cropped off the image but they must have been slightly longer than what can be seen in the picture. Yet, behind Theodor on the left there is a small footpath that leads into the bushes. From this viewpoint the footpath looks pretty steep, and he is standing very close to it. It does not really match. To me, it looks more like a photo wallpaper, and they have been placed in front of it. (But yeah, they could also stand very, very close to the bushes.)

So, my guess is that there was a street photographer in Kiel with a huge photo background, and he offered an ad-hoc photo shooting around 1915. Probably before WW I broke out, i.e. in spring or summer of 1914.

Anyway, I think it’s a very interesting photograph.

The high resolution image

Capture Dateunknown, probably 1914
LocationKiel, Germany
Image Source7 x 7 cm black & white print
Digital Image SourceEPSON Perfection 4870 Photo
Digital Image Source FormatTIFF, 48 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions3082 x 3717 Pixels
CopyrightScan © by Mark Zanzig/


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