Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lost and Found - Three Images

A celebration of old photographs which have long been lost and forgotten, but have now been found and shared with the world.

1705001 : A YOUTH ON A HORSE : The strange thing about this print is that it appears to date from a period much later than when horses were a regular feature of the roads of the land. The road is paved - a road of the age of the motor car - and the horse is saddled. The youth seems to be a child of the thirties, a time when horses were for sportsmen and farmers.

1705011 : THE REIGATE CAMPERS : Clues can be found within the smallest and most insignificant details in Lost Photographs. This is a scan of a found negative of two young lads on what appears to be a camping holiday. One of the lads is sat on a beer crate which appears to be from the Reigate brewer, Mellersh & Neale. The brewery was taken over in 1938 and beer bottles didn't travel far in those days.

1705013 : THE BESPECTACLED VICAR : I assume he is a vicar, because that does look like a clerical collar that he is wearing. He is also wearing a very self-satisfied smile. Here is a man at peace with his salvation.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Walking Backwards : Gardens, Teapots And Varicose Vein

It is possible to think of each old photograph as a step into history. If it is a photograph of unknown people in unknown places, it is, by definition, a step into the unknown with all the uncertainty and potential for excitement that implies. If it is a photograph you are familiar with - or better still, a photograph you took decades ago - it is a step into more familiar territory, rich in clues to memories that have long been in a state of hibernation. If it is a strip of negatives (photographs that are linked together by celluloid certainty) it is not a step, but a walk through history. Scanning a long forgotten strip of negatives from forty or fifty years ago is like walking backwards through time and one of my favourite occupations.

This strip of five negatives must have been taken in the early 1970s. Four of them feature the gardens at my parent's house in Northowram, near Halifax, whilst the fifth is a photograph of my mother, Gladys.

The picture of my mother is as rich in memories as an Autumn fruit tree. That little folding table seems to occupy a larger portion of my memories forty-five years after the event, than all the faces of my school class mates put together. I can still remember the feel of that little aluminium teapot and the smell of brewing tea leaves being swirled around in order to provide a last half-cup of well stewed tea.

And look at my mothers' legs! Those varicose veins that stood out like a relief map of the Rift Valley. Veins that she passed on to me with genetic certainty, veins which now wind their way up my leg with the complexity of a river delta. And then there is an enigmatic smile that the Mona Lisa would have been proud of, a smile that says "you might laugh at the state of my legs now, but just you wait my boy, just you wait!”

The other four photographs on the film strip were all taken in the gardens of the family house in Oaklands Avenue - a house that was my home from the early 1950s until a year or two before these photographs were taken.

The back garden fell steeply from where the house was built, and my father had constructed a series of terraced flower beds. By the time these photographs were taken the individual terraces had been smoothed into a continuous slope.

When we first moved into the house in 1952, the view to the back was one of fields and hills interrupted by the occasional church tower of mill chimney in the distance. Over the years houses were built in the fields, but I don't remember anyone at the time marching down the lanes with placards demanding that the countryside should be saved from such developments. It was a natural process - people had to have homes to live in - views were something for picture books and visits to the seaside.

At the front of the house was the inevitable drive, car and garage. The garage was made of asbestos and will probably rank as a major international biohazard today. I can half remember the car - chunky, square and utilitarian - and the number plate does allow me to make a better guess at the date of the photos. My father would tend to buy cars when they were two to three years old which plants the negative strip very firmly in the period 1972 to 1973.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sepia Saturday 368 : Who's A Lovely Boy Then?

You don't have to travel far, metaphorically speaking, to get from a snake on your lap to a parrot on your shoulder. Our theme image this week is the former and my contribution is a picture of Alexander at the zoo back in 1994. To me, 1994 is just like yesterday and doesn't really qualify as a sepia image, so I had to turn to a Photoshop filter to age it. But then it seemed like a crime to render such a colourful parrot in sepia tones, so I brought it back to its colourful best. 

The Sepia Saturday theme image was late going up this week because I took Isobel to Chester Zoo as a birthday treat. Whilst we were there we fondly remembered all the times we had taken Alexander to the zoo when he was a child. The photograph above - from, I seem to remember, the Welsh Mountain Zoo near Llandudno - was one such occasion. When we eventually got back home from Chester we were delighted to discover that Alexander had driven up after finishing work to spend an evening with us on his mothers' birthday. As Mr Parrot would no doubt say "Who's a lovely boy then?"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Further Up't Hill From West Vale

Wandering up the hill towards Hullen Edge, we came across a couple odd streets that got my genealogical pulse beating that little bit quicker. First there was Union Street. The "union" in such names could mean lots of things - trade unions or the union between England and Scotland, for example - but often it is a reference to the Parish Unions which were established to oversee the Poor Laws. Just around the corner, I realised we were walking up "Workhouse Lane”, and I immediately started looking for the local workhouse. I did find a suitably austere and institutionalised building which I became convinced must be the old Elland-Cum-Greetland Workhouse, but further research suggested that this was the former home of the local Catholic Primary School. I led my companions up every dead-ended lane and street, searching for the building to which several of our relatives will had been committed, but to no avail.

If you take a sharp left off Workhouse Lane you come to Feather Bed Lane! I realise that you could hardly make this up, and it sounds for the world like some Victorian allegory about hard work and enterprise; but it is true. If you ignore the temptations of the proffered feather bed and keep climbing up the hill you come to one of those splendid terraces, that West Yorkshire was so good at producing a hundred or more years ago. Solidly built in stone and set into a hillside, such developments seem to be planned by nobody and connected to nothing. Often there won't be a road to them, just a path, and small gardens will drop down the valley sides like an afterthought.

This particular terrace is called Woodside, and the houses must have views across the valley that make the hill climb almost worthwhile. But I still recall the words of my late father-in-law to his daughter many years ago when she was singing the praises of a similar house: "Nay lass, tha' couldn't push a pram up there!”

As the lanes and paths wind their way up the valley side you keep being presented with new vistas. Within yards - within moments - these can change from soot-encrusted terraces of Yorkshire stone to weed-framed mock-meadows that look as though they have escaped from a "Country File" calendar.

And occasionally you will get an overview which can dampen any trace of pointless nostalgia. The workhouse doesn't exist anymore, many of the houses you can see dotted throughout the landscape are new, bright, clean houses. And that mill down in the valley houses a smart restaurant and wine bar, not a gang of disease ridden children chained to looms.

And then there are the trees. There is a 1931 aerial image of West Vale in the "Britain From Above" series, and you need to search it for some time before you come across a tree. Now, the hillsides are lush with vegetation and trees help mask some of the worst legacies of our industrial past.

As you near the steepest part of the hill climb, some local wit has managed to manufacture a reasonably accurate road sign, and pinned it to a convenient lamp-post. It shows you the way to the end of the walk. "Up't hill" it says, just in case the muscles on the back of your legs are beginning to suspect you might have taken a wrong turning. And so you carry on until you have finished going up't hill from West Vale.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Up't Hill From West Vale

We took a walk the other day: taking us from West Vale up the steep incline of Hullen Edge to Elland, which is perched on the top of the valley of the River Calder. In Yorkshire terms, the walk could be described as "Up't Hill from West Vale". West Vale itself is neither a town nor a village - I suppose if you had to call it anything it is a settlement, or more accurately you could say it is an intersection. There are a lot of roads (which are still busy), and a lot of churches and chapels (which are mainly empty of they have been converted into other uses). And there are a lot of houses, many of which are in terraces which have been pinned to the steep hillsides with some kind of gravity-defying superglue. 

The first photograph shows the imposing building that was originally the Church of St John the Evangelist. Built in 1882, it managed to survive - first good times and then leaner times - until it finally closed its doors for religious purposes exactly 100 years after it opened them. Now it is a "Business Centre”, and office space can by hired by any firm seeking economic salvation.

Just around the corner from St Johns That Was is another imposing building from the same era - the Mechanics Institute and Council Offices That Were. The evidence of its former glory is gradually flaking away. Soon, nothing will be left but a memory and a Grade II listed exterior that seems difficult to fill with twenty-first century activities.

.... to be continued

Monday, May 15, 2017

20 Images : 20. Major Oak, Sherwood Forest


So at the end of our odyssey we find ourselves sat under a tree in Sherwood Forest. There are a few interesting connections caught up in this last image. First of all, the major oak is in Sherwood Forest and legend has it that it was where Robin Hood and his Merry Men sheltered when hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham (when they were not sheltering in the Tap Room of the Robin Hood in Brighouse). Secondly, it is not that many miles away from Radford Road in Nottingham where we started this curious twenty-image journey. Finally, some people have been kind enough to say that this particular picture reminded them of me and I assumed that was a reference to the serene gent in the flat cap sat under the tree. Then, however, I read the Wiki description of the Major Oak - "it weighs 23 tons and has a girth of 33 feet" - and I realised that this might be the connection being referred to.

If you had told me three weeks ago that this expedition would finish under the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, I would have been as surprised as you. There was no grand plan in mind, although I have tried to build in a loose connection between one image and the next. This should have left me a thousand miles away from where I began - but it didn't: it left me just down the road. The only map of the journey is this map of connections. It is both an image-map and a map of the imagination.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

20 Images : 19. The Robin Hood Pub, Brighouse


Yesterday's image was taken from a 1954 film entitled "Siege At Red River". A few years earlier, the same studio released a film called "Red River Robin Hood", which shared nothing with its later cinematic cousin other than half a title. The connection also allows us to return to England from America and, en route to our final destination, call off for a pint at the Robin Hood pub in Brighouse. In reality, this is not as easy as it might sound as they pulled the place down a couple of weeks ago, leaving a rubble-filled, dust-coated potential development opportunity where a well-loved local used to be. Luckily, I live my life in line with a number of philosophical precepts - one of the most important of which is "never walk past a pub without taking a photo of it as it might not be there the next time you pass!"

The name of the pub comes from the supposed site of Robin Hood's grave a couple of miles down the road. Legend has it that near the end, Robin went in search of Maid Marion who had become a nun in Kirklees Nunnery. He was killed before he got there, and fired a famous last arrow to identify the place he should be buried, which turned out to be just off a lay-by on the A644. I used to say that he would have been better off stopping off at the Robin Hood for a pint, but given recent events, it would have been a sad end for him to have been crushed to death by a bulldozer.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

20 Images : 18. Siege At Red River


Of course, Indians go with cowboys like Sepia goes with Saturday. So following yesterday's wonderful studio portrait of a Native American, we seamlessly move on to a cinema still photograph from the 1954 movie "Siege At Red River".  I went through a phase recently of buying random movie stills - the kind that were displayed outside cinemas to tempt people to come and see the film they were advertising. The quality of the original photograph is usually good enough to produce an excellent scan and the images themselves are normally well out of copyright.

This particular image shows a trio of Hollywood stars - Van Johnson, Joanne Dru and Richard Boone - who are all involved in efforts to make sure that a Civil War Gatling Gun doesn't fall into the hands of Chief Yellow Hawk of the Sioux Nation (the philosophical and moral rationale for their actions is another question, but let us for the moment limit ourselves to the image).

The image does not only fit in with my convoluted passage through the twenty images I am featuring on News From Nowhere at the moment, it also - by a spoonful of design and a shovelful of happenstance - fits in with this week's Sepia Saturday theme image, which is a cinema still featuring an earlier generation of Hollywood talent.

You can see more variations of this Sepia theme by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links. You can see where this convoluted journey on mine finishes by returning to News From Nowhere over the next couple of days.

Friday, May 12, 2017

20 Images : 17. Yumqas-Mamalenkala


In the Victorian and Edwardian era everyone was drawn towards the photographic studios that sprung up in most cities, towns and villages throughout the western world. In the early days it would be the aristocrats, followed by the respectable middle classes and then - as techniques improved and prices came down - it would be the working class. There was also a positive effort to capture the images of people, customs and scenes before they disappeared forever.

Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer and ethnologist who started his photographic career - like so many others in this period - by establishing a local studio and selling card-mounted prints of anyone who had a few dollars to spare. By 1895 he had developed a passionate interest in photographing Native Americans - attempting to capture elements of a culture which was rapidly vanishing all around him. This wonderful image, entitled Yumqas-Mamalenkala, dates from 1914 - a time when Curtis was also beginning to experiment with the new technology of cinematography.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

20 Images : 16. The Parisian School Of Photography


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, art nouveau seemed to percolate everywhere - whether it was on the signs outside pubs or the lettering on the back of studio mounts. So often with Victorian Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards, it is the design on the back of the card which is more visually exciting than the face of the sitter on the front of the card.  There is an odd contrast between the stern and starched Victorian subjects - the women coated in crinolines, the men framed with beards and whiskers - and the riotous gaiety of the studio details on the back of the card. Here nymphs sprout flowers and typefaces drip with tendrils: this is not the punchy advertising of modern copywriters, but advertising that gently blows on the hairs at the back of your neck.

My image today is taken from the back of just one such Victorian photograph (the subject, alas, is too boring to comment upon), which I bought from a junk shop for a few pence. As the wording says, "Copies can be had at any time": - just right click your mouse and choose "copy".