'Phantom girl' in century-old pictures sends Siberian researchers on frantic search (PHOTOS)
So far, the mystery girl has been found in at least 20 photos and four glass negatives, which researchers at the Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore believe were taken between 1906 and 1908, judging from the state of the buildings in the photos.
“It was only modern equipment that allowed us to notice the girl. When you look at the old pictures, you do not see her. She is rather small there. When we made high resolution scans and zoomed in, we saw her more closely, along with the details of her clothes and hairstyle,” said Ilya Kuklinsky, senior researcher at the museum. “It is quite strange that no one noticed her before, though the pictures were widely used as illustrations.”
In most of the landscape shots, the girl plays no obvious role, standing in the background next to several lower-class children, or at one point on a rooftop in front of a railway bridge in the Siberian city.
“She changes boots, stockings, and we can see some differences in her dress, but she is always in the same pose and with the same facial expression. She never smiles. The fact that she changes her clothes makes me think that the pictures were not taken in a single day,” said Kuklinsky. “It was over a period of some time. But what was the aim?”
After releasing a series of postcards pointing out the girl, the museum hopes locals may help identify her – if that is even possible, considering the social upheavals that have occurred in Russia since.
“I think we must try to solve this mystery, since the girl is almost a kind of brand for Krasnoyarsk,” Kuklinsky said.
The most logical start would be identifying the name of the photographer. However, most photos have no identifying text, while a few are marked with the initials F.E.A. Photography was only practiced by a select few at the time, but that signature does not match up with any of the city’s well-known professionals or hobbyists.
“We think that the girl could be the photographer’s daughter, or his niece, but we do not know for sure, as we do not even know the photographer’s name,” said Kuklinsky. "Possibly these were for a private album, as some photos have glue on the back, and seem to have been ripped from one, but alternatively, the photographer might have been trying to immortalize the girl, as substantial print runs of postcards with her image were published."
So far, no one has come forward.
Abandoned aspects of early photography – like Victorian post-mortem images of children, assistants under blankets keeping infants still during long exposures, or propping stands – have aroused fascination. Including a well-dressed relative as a trademark may be another such forgotten convention, or the explanation could be more mysterious and personal.