Help identify this old photo.
January 21, 2014 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Help identify this photo of creepy cows. Creepy cows inside.

The photo. There's about 1/2 inch cut off from the right side in the photo, but that 1/2 inch doesn't provide any extra information.

Here's what I know about it:

  • I found this photo at a garage sale, 10 years ago, in backwoods Northern Minnesota (Longville, to be exact). I didn't ask the salers anything about the photo at the time, and I can't even remember where exactly I found it.

  • It's printed on light thin cardboard-like stock and doesn't appear to be an enlargement or reproduction. No identifying signature or marks. It was glued to the matting.

  • There's a mountain or very tall hill in the background. This tells me the photo probably wasn't taken in Minnesota, though we do have deep valley towns here, so I'm not ruling it out.

  • Reverse images searches don't bring up matches.

    I'm curious about a couple of things. Where was this photo taken? What time period? Who was the photographer? Any sleuthing or pointers for sleuthing would satisfy my work day curiosity today. Thanks!
  • posted by Zosia Blue to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
    The architecture looks European to me. Sweden would be a good bet, given where you found it.
    posted by jquinby at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2014

    The architecture is European Alpine. Maybe Switzerland or southern Germany.
    posted by Thing at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

    I would guess the time date is anywhere from 1920s to 1950s. This covers the time when US troops were stationed in Germany and Austria, with sectors in Bavaria and round Salzburg. That would suggest it comes from the collection of somebody who was in the US military in that rough area, and account for how it turned up in Minnesota.
    posted by Thing at 9:53 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

    The architecture looks Bavarian to me. Compare the eaves in the photo with the eaves in this old hotel here
    posted by Marauding Ennui at 9:54 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

    I'd second Bavaria, early 20th C. The architecture is typical particularly of Bavarian guest houses. Google Images search on "Bavaria mountain" doesn't immediately turn up a profile similar to the background hill, but maybe some diligent scrolling would. (Upon retry: click on second thumbnail here.) As to how it got to MN — somebody could have taken a trip and bought it (it's kind of a touristy shot); somebody's relative could have sent it; somebody could have moved from Bavaria to MN with it. No telling which. It does seem more likely it's a professional picture than a tourist snapshot.
    posted by beagle at 10:22 AM on January 21, 2014

    Very helpful. I'd agree that this looks Swiss or Bavarian. Beagle, I'd agree that this looks like a professional photo. It doesn't have the look/feel of a touristy snapshot.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 10:27 AM on January 21, 2014

    Regarding "touristy" — People don't let their cows don't wander down lanes like that. So I'd say it was posed, either to promote the guest house, if that's what it is, or for the farmer, if the house is a farm. (They don't look creepy to me, by the way. And they're probably heifers, not cows.)
    posted by beagle at 10:50 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

    People don't let their cows don't wander down lanes like that.

    Hm, I thought if herds were being brought down from the, erm... Alm (mountain pasture!), that's exactly what happened. These could be some stragglers (tho you'd expect a shepherd at the tail end of the herd).
    posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2014

    This reminds me of similar scenes I saw in Northern Italy (Italian alps) of cows being herded through rural village pathways. Accompanied by shepherds, of course. The architecture does look more Bavarian, though, and there are so many pastures with mountains in the background it'd be hard to pin down where. In looking for pictures of Garmische (with the impressive Zugspitz looming over town) I came across these images from the charmingly named town of Wank. Pastures and mountains.
    posted by amanda at 1:38 PM on January 21, 2014

    Brown-white cows, eh?(Or whatever, heifers, yearlings. Eyeballing the left one not much over a year old and the one to the right likely older)
    …doesn't help, sadly, that kind is all over the place (less common in Northern Germany).

    Mid-day sun, so looking north, or north-west - for anyone who wants to picture-Google. A million options left.

    Could be many places along the northern edge of the Alps, (or even in the Alps), medium-high Allgäu (thinking of Sonthofen, Fischen or Oberstdorf), for example. Further east (Oberammergau, Garmisch, Mittenwald), the houses tend to be more decorated. But the building style is pretty generic. There are many places in Austria that fit the bill as well.

    The sad thing is that the outline of the mountain in the background isn't characteristic at all, and the photo is so dizzy that it's impossible to say wether it's, say, a mile or half a mile tall.

    Before the age of Porsche-driving tourists (look at the amount of wooden fences: it's quite a while ago), letting your cows run free was not quite such a big thing. But they may indeed be part of a larger herd, as ClarissaWAM suggests; catching up, which might explain the absence of a person behind (cow herds are indifferent to shepherds, I've heard).
    posted by Namlit at 1:56 PM on January 21, 2014

    I'm thinking much the same as Namlit - the lack of decorative elements on the house (no shutters, no wall paintings, no flowers) is something you mostly see in more remote valleys today, but 60-90 years ago? Probably quite normal. Cows in the lane? Same thing.
    It's in the alps, but could be almost anywhere, including northern Italy and western France. You'll have to find someone who knows that particular mountain, since probably both the house and the lane are completely different today.
    Obviously it's not in the very highest alps, because there is no snow on the mountain, but on the other hand, when you are in a very remote and high altitude valley, even very high peaks are uncannily hilly to look at.
    posted by mumimor at 2:09 PM on January 21, 2014

    Agreed this could be from a wider range of areas than you think -- there are certainly chalets/gasthofs of this general type in all the alpine countries.

    That said, the particular motifs used are known to vary by region, and that could help narrow it down, if you were to find yourself an architectural historian of the region. (I know this because as an architectural historian of my region -- the US midwest -- I'm aware that these motifs were brought over by immigrants and used here in an American context.) In particular the "icicle" elements hanging from the ornate fascia are probably fairly regionally specific. Also, I would point out the very regular and very square windows suggest a more modern construction, perhaps not many years before the photo was taken. (Example: building in background is fluid and irregular, with modern, stiff buildings in foreground, but still generally compatible.)

    It really is too bad you didn't get any provenance when you purchased it (even a family name might help), since that's a big part of historical/photographical research. I'm not saying it would always be possible to narrow a photo down to a specific location, but with a little more, we'd probably have a better than fractional chance. I do have an idea, though, which is posting this on mountain climbing forums. That face you see looks like just the sort that would attract climbers -- not quite the Eiger, but similar: a steep, imposing (though not necessarily vertical) slope with wide open views (which both attract interest and allow visually planning routes). You could also start trawling through Alpine four-thousanders (there's an even bigger group of three-thousanders, of course) and see what looks familiar.
    posted by dhartung at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2014

    A lot of postcards from that era were just photographs printed on card stock. If it's stuck to a mat you won't be able to see the back, but maybe you can try using a light table to see if you can see printed lines or writing through the card? If there's writing inside, it probably says where the photo was taken.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 8:34 PM on January 22, 2014

    Thanks, everyone. You've given me some fun leads.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 11:52 AM on January 28, 2014

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