Monday, February 19, 2018

Dating Pineapples In Greece


Scanning old colour negatives always seems to give results that don't carry the same weight of history as you get with monochrome negatives. We are so used to dividing photographic images into two mutually exclusive categories: the fist five decades were black and white decades, the last five were in colour. We therefore "see" colour images as more modern than photographs that may have been taken on the same day but were shot in black and white.

This sequence of negatives were taken in Athens and Piraeus over thirty years ago, but you need to dig down to find the dating clues. Cars are always a useful standby, as - to a lesser extent - are clothes and hair styles. The fact that I have a full head of curly brown hair on the second shot in the sequence below, suggests a date which must be almost pre-historical.


There is also a shot which was taken outside what I think was (is) the National Historical Museum, which shows the museum attendant quietly nodding off on a chair near the entrance. This, of course, was the era before security guards, bag scanning and closed-circuit TV.

We can, perhaps, turn to the price of pineapples in the first picture to get a more definitive guide to the date, but a lot has changed since the 1980s. So perhaps it is best to stick with my memories of the holiday, which - I guess - must have been in about 1985.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taylors Here, Taylors There, Taylors Everywhere.


The world of Victorian photographic studios is full of Taylors. Taylors here, Taylors there, and in the 1880s and 1890s, Taylors every bloody where. The most notable Taylors was established by Andrew and George Taylor (A & G Taylor) in London in the 1860s, and within forty years it developed into the largest photographic studio chain in Britain, with branches in most large towns and cities. They also claimed to be "Photographers To The Queen", and later went on to establish branches in the United States. It is unclear whether this is the same firm as the one responsible for this carte de visite - Taylor & Son of Doncaster. It would appear that A&G did have a branch in Doncaster, but I can see no reason why they should use the different title there than anywhere else. "Photographer to the Royal Family" might seem to confirm the link between the two, but during the 1880s any Tom, Dick and Photographic Harry worth his salt claimed to have a Royal or aristocratic warrant of some sort or another. 

What is needed, of course, is an authoritative directory of Victorian and Edwardian photographic studios. A Google search has not provided any clear advice on how to tell one Taylor from another, but I live in hope that someone has penned a definitive monologue on the subject.


Friday, February 16, 2018

A Grazed Knee And An Open Sea (Sepia Saturday 406)


Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a group of people in swimming costumes; sitting around, standing around, and hanging around. The pool and the beach have always been prime locations for "family snaps", and there was an album-full of potential images for me to choose from.

I have chosen a picture from, I suspect, 1950 which shows my brother Roger and myself standing around and crouching around on the beach in either New Brighton or Bridlington. No doubt Roger will be able to tell us if this was West Coast or East Coast. That is a rather lame test of his memory, so he gets a bonus point if he can remember why he has a rather large plaster on his left knee!

You can see more Sepia Saturday submissions by going to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the links.


History Preserved, Like A Moth In An Encyclopaedia


The great thing about messing about with old photos is the sense of discovery; the ability to find a nugget of history sparkling in the sands of the commonplace. This is a tiny print which must date back to the 1940s and shows half a dozen young men who look like they are ready for a night out. Before hitting the town they gather in the back yard for a photograph to be taken. These days it would  flash around the world on Facebook or Instagram and then be forgotten forever. However,  seventy years ago history was pressed and preserved like a moth in an encyclopaedia. Just looking at it, you can almost imagine yourself there, ready to hit the dance halls, ready to face the future.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Kate And The John Noble Half Guinea Costume Company


A few weeks ago I shared a photograph of my grandmother, Kate Kellam, which must have dated from the very beginning of the twentieth century. This date was based on the location of the studio, Keighley, and the fact that Kate didn't move there until late 1901 or early 1902. However, the dress she is wearing looks much earlier than that, and if I had been looking at the Cabinet Card as an "unknown photograph", I would have probably dated it at least ten or twenty years earlier.

I was therefore fascinated to discover the other day, an advertisement in a 1898 copy of Pearson's Weekly Newspaper for John Noble's Half Guinea Costumes, which features dresses that have the same shape and style as the one my grandmother was wearing. Given that it would probably take two or three years for the latest fashions to transcend the Pennines from the bright lights of Manchester to the smokey streets of Keighley, the dates fit rather nicely.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Words And Pictures In Edinburgh And Ballarat


We spent a few delightful days in Edinburgh last week where we were blessed with cold bright skies, warm bright company, and peaty bright malt whisky. I came back south on the train on Saturday with a suitcase full of memories and a bag full of books. One of my best discoveries was made in the bookshop of the Scottish National Gallery where I found several of the publications of the Scottish Society for the History of Photography, which, I must confess, I had not come across before. As time goes by I become more and more fascinated by old photographs and the beautifully produced and illustrated biannual journal of the Society - Studies in Photography - was a delight to behold. I bought the full range of available copies from the Gallery shop and immediately joined the Society on my return home.

A couple of other books I bought in Edinburgh also reflect my passion for images - A History of Photography, which is a guide to the George Eastman House Collection of historical photographs; and Slightly Out Of Focus,  the World War II memoirs of Robert Capa, one of the finest photographers of all time.

My final book in this quartet was waiting for me when we returned from Edinburgh and that is  a splendid volume entitled Yorkshire to Ballarat Goldfields Part 1 which had been sent to me all the way from Australia by the author Graham Beanland. My mother's family were Beanlands and I made contact last year with Graham, who has researched and written about the Beanland family in Australia. I look forward to discovering more about my families' adventures in the Ballarat goldfields.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Torn To Pieces

Someone has treated this lady very badly. She was originally part of a grand Victorian Cabinet Card, one of what must have been a couple. She was looking at her unknown partner with eyes that stood out due to a little additional inking from the photographic studio. But then something happened, a split took place and the Cabinet Card was torn into pieces and those eyes were left to stare into nothingness.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Dietary Advice To The Working Man


"Good healthy specimens of men and women can only be built up out of good building material ... The working man's sixpence sensibly expended, will do him as much good as the rich man's five pound note, more often than not, does the latter harm"

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Such A Long Time Ago


This photograph of my brother Roger and myself must have been taken as we were crossing the River Mersey by ferry on our way to our annual holidays in New Brighton. I must have been about four or five year old at the time and that would mean my brother was nine or ten. It will have been the summer of either 1952 or 1953. Such a long time ago!

Lines About A Pole



It is strange, the way the mind works when you see an old image. The thing that fascinated me about this old picture postcard of Carbis Bay, near St Ives in Cornwall, was not the stunning beach, nor was it the near-deserted landscape of a century ago: it was the telegraph pole! It makes no attempts to blend in, it takes no scenic prisoners; it's big and bold and boisterous, the way telegraph poles were always meant to be.  Having seen it, I fell in love and found myself visiting the website of the Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society

I have to confess that I feel like I have been drifting recently: without purpose, without drive, without meaning. Could this old postcard be a sign for me? As I approach my eighth decade, could it be that the rigid discipline and spartan style of an unabashed wooden telegraph pole is just what my life needs?