Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Not Over Until The Fattish Lady Signs Her Autograph

I'm fat - I won't deny it. I'm not particularly proud of it, but I acknowledge that if you were describing my physical appearance to a third party who hadn't met me, the term "fat" might be a useful addition to your descriptive vocabulary. If push came to shove, I suspect I would prefer the term "fattish" as that conveys a spectrum upon which I stand (or more likely, upon which I sit and eat a bag of crisps), but if you were to fall back on fat, I confess I would be bang to rights.

All this means that I think I am well within my rights to describe the lady who is the subject of this Victorian Cabinet Card as being fat. I could be wrong - it's been known - and it may be that the Victorian dress she is wearing might cover - in yards and yards of black crepe and countless undergarments of unimaginable description - a figure that is as skinny as a lettuce leaf between two slices of rye bread. Let us just agree that she is towards the fattish end of the spectrum.

The photograph is the work of the Victorian photographer, Walter George Lewis. Lewis had his studio at 1 and 2 Seymour Street in the ancient city of Bath and seems to have been active in the profession from the early days of the studio photography boom in the late 1860s through until the first decade of the twentieth century. It would appear that he made a good living as a photographer; by the time of the 1911 census he was retired and living in Norfolk Crescent - one of the most desirable Georgian crescents in the city. It is unclear as to where his skills as a "photographic artist" came from; his father was charmingly listed as being a "turn cock to Bath Water Works" in the 1851 census.

At first I was a little intrigued by the unusual reverse of the Cabinet Card with what appears to be a folded piece of paper covering most of the traditional arts and crafts design that photographic studios at this time were so fond of. Once scanned and enlarged, however, I noticed the explanation - "space for Autograph" which is a lovely touch. Sadly the fattish lady didn't add her autograph, and so we are left not knowing who she was and whether, like me, she had a voracious appetite for potato crisps.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Run In The Rain With Elizabeth Taylor

Most northern towns and cities have a municipal park a little like the one illustrated in this old picture postcard of Hull. Grand gates, parallel paths, fine prospects of a municipal drinking fountain - all are key elements of any corporation park. Interesting as the view is, it is the message on the reverse which intrigues me.

The card is addressed to Miss E Taylor at a Children's Outfitter shop in Crook, County Durham. The date appears to be the 8th June 1910, but the only E Taylor I can find at that address at the time is a five year old girl called Elizabeth. The message is as follows:-

We arrived safely after a very wet journey- rain all the way to York. Please to say we are no worse for the experience and trust that you did not take cold. We hope the next run you have will be much pleasanter. We also hope Mrs W is still improving and that all the rest of you are keeping well. Kind love to all. AK

One phrase stood out when I first read the message - "we hope the next run you have will be much pleasanter".  Even when I was young, trips out in a motor car would be referred to as "a run". And given that the journey from Durham down to Hull had left the writer "very wet", we can only assume it was undertaken in an open-top motor car. Let us hope the trip out in the rain didn't put young Miss Taylor off motor travel for the rest of her life.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sepia Saturday 358 : Radio Waves

Photography is always celebrated for its ability to "capture memories", but there is a problem for those of us involved in the memory apprehension business - memories, by definition, develop after the event, whilst photographs have to be taken whilst the event is in progress. One way around this would be the development of a "retrospective memory camera" capable of going back in time and capturing a decent large format jpeg image of something that occurred long ago; but whilst such cameras are no doubt in development in some recess of Silicon Valley, it will be well after the lifetime of my memory when they become available on Amazon Prime.  This means that we photographers are stuck with having to try and guess what might be memories in the future and capture and store them now - just in case. 

Take, for example, the radio: which is a topic I turned my attention to after a radio made an appearance in this week's Sepia Saturday prompt. Having lived most of my life in the twentieth century, radios have always been an important part of my life. I dare say that I could make a decent stab at a short autobiography entitled "My Life In Twenty Radios", because different radios have punctuated my life like a series of AM/FM punctuation marks. The only problem I would have with such an undertaking would be to find a suitable picture for the front cover.

Radios may have been central to my life, but they always tend to be peripheral to my photographs. I can think back to the first radio I became familiar with - an enormous wooden "radiogram" that could still play 78rpm records and had long-wave stations like Velthem, Munchen and Stavanger - but unfortunately my thoughts cannot rely on a supporting image.

When I became a teenager, my parents bought be a Japanese transistor radio and for many years it was my prize possession.  I would walk with it, eat with it and sleep with it: we were inseparable - whilst I fought the ravages of teenage acne, it valiantly attempting to connect with the waves emanating from Radio Luxembourg. But whilst I have endless photographs of my first girlfriends, my fathers' cars, and even the neighbours cat - I have no surviving photograph of that beloved transistor radio.

I recall later radios - wood and plastic affairs with chunky push buttons and circular dials - but if these survive in the photographic record, it is merely because they sneaked their way into a photograph by virtue of a lens that was a little too wide-angled. 

Most of all, I remember a wonderful old Bakelite radio that I bought for ten bob in a junk shop and became my constant companion whilst I was away at College and University. I was convinced that I had a photograph of that somewhere - to such an extent that I spent a couple of hours this morning going through my entire negative archives in search of it. I couldn't find it because I doubt that it exists - it is merely a photograph that, in retrospect, I wish I had taken. To see it you will have to be patient and await the development of the Retrospective Memory Camera.

To see more captured memories based on this weeks theme image go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Joy Of Tripe Dressing

A man makes his way across the tap room of a crowded pub and surreptitiously slips you a little package containing a dirty postcard. You glance at it, not wanting to draw attention to the exchange, and give a brief nod of understanding and thanks. You carefully place it in your inside pocket, longing for the time to pass until you can make your way to the privacy of your own home and examine the picture in detail. There you can let your eye explore the lines and the curves, the meaning and the promise of that glorious image. There you can feast on the whole and consume each individual part as though it was the rarest of rare beasts. There you can let the joy of that unforgettable phrase - etched in glass high above a window - echo through the various levels of your consciousness : "J. A Binns - Wholesale And Retail Tripe Dresser".  Thanks Jack.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Let's Hear It For My New Ear

This may not seem like a particularly important photograph to you. It is simply an old man with white hair and a bit of a silly grin on his face. But look closely, and what do you see? Nothing! Precisely,  For the first time in thirty-odd years there is nothing lodged behind his ear; no wires dangling here and there, no visible signs of his undoubted disability. It is the new me with my new hidden speech processor.

The first speech processor I had some twenty years ago was a plastic box of batteries, computers and wires that attached to my belt and which was inked by wire to a microphone lodged behind my ear. Over the years the speech processors have got smaller and smaller and the software programmes within them have got cleverer and cleverer. My latest processor is just a little larger than a 50 pence piece and sits under my hair on the side of my head. It has programmes within it that constantly monitor the sound around me, decide what is background noise and reduce it in volume thus allowing me to concentrate on important stuff like listening to the latest episode of The Archers.

Since I was given the new processor last Thursday I have been slowly getting used to it. It is difficult to explain how a completely new sensory devise shifts everything a little: things sound a tiny bit different, your hearing works in a marginally different way, and there are new buttons and switches and programmes to get used to. Here are just a few things I have discovered in the few days since I received my Cochlear Nucleus Kanso processor.

- The biggest fear with a device so small which is only attached to you by a magnet, is that it will fall off at some inappropriate moment such as when you are walking past a drain or when the dog is feeling particularly hungry. I could get a stronger magnet, but the danger with that is that over time it will wear through the skin and my brains will leak out.

- If I shake my head too vigorously the implant has a tendency to fly off, therefore I am trying to avoid situations where I need to express indignant disagreement. All statements about how wonderful life outside the European Union is bound to be for Britain are now met by me with a pitying scowl.

- Whilst a hat remains an implant wearers best friend, extra care has to be taken when putting them on and taking them off to avoid casting your ear into space. The best solution I have discovered is a significant bowing of the head before taking your hat off so if the processor falls off it will fall off into the waiting hat. This makes it look as though I have just met a member of the royal family and I am undertaking a particularly obsequious bow.

- The bluetooth connectivity means that I can now walk the dog and have music streamed straight to my brain. Whilst we are used to meeting walkers and joggers seemingly singing and talking to themselves as they pound the streets, we can usually check their sanity by searching for the tell-tale speaker buds in their ears and cables to their smart phones. No such evidence is available in my case and therefore people are left to draw their own conclusions about my sanity.

- One clever attachment (the phone clip) allows me to voice dial on my mobile phone, but the sensitivity of the necessary command takes a bit of getting used to.  Yesterday whilst out walking I sneezed and phoned a friend.

I am sure I will quickly get used to all aspects of my new ear and start to take it for granted. What I will never take for granted is the brilliance of the scientists who designed and developed the technology, the skill and dedication of the medical team that fitted and maintains my implant, and the fabulous National Health Service that made it all possible for me. Let's hear it for all of them.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anxiously Awaiting My New Viking Head

I am due to get a new head on Thursday. Well, maybe not the entire head - but a very important part of it because I am due to have my cochlear implant speech processor upgraded.  This will be the third upgrade in the almost twenty years I have enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of being able to hear again. The implant works by linking an external sound processor, which converts sounds into electrical impulses, to an internal receiver which conducts the impulses to the auditory nerve in the cochlear: together, by some miraculous process, these produce the sensation of sound. You will be pleased to know (well, at least I am pleased to know) that it is merely the external bits which are to be replaced - they will not go digging around inside my head on this occasion.

The new processor has two major advantages over the one I have had for the last six years. First, it is smaller, and will hopefully just snap snuggly against my skull. My current processor hangs behind my ear and is attached by a cable to the transmitter on my skull. This may sound cumbersome but that was a massive advantage over Mark 1, which was attached to my belt and connected by wires all over the place! As my ears don't work at all, there is no need for the processor to hang around with them, in the past my ear has been nothing more than a convenient hook to hang the equipment from.

The second advantage is that the new system should be bluetooth enabled, so it should mean the end of wires altogether. I should be able to get a bluetooth signal direct from my iPhone straight to my brain. I know that this might sound like hell warmed up to people who crave blissful silence, but to them I would suggest trying to manage without any sound other than the tinnitus squeaking of their own brain for a month or two, and I am sure that they would be happy to have Paul Simon's Greatest Hits transmitted straight to their subconscious. Bluetooth was famously named after Harald Bluetooth, the tenth century King of Denmark, so as of Thursday I will be wandering around with a bit of Viking in my head.

As anyone who has upgraded a computer will know, such things rarely go smoothly. New systems take time to get used to. New technologies often, at first, seem inferior to what is old and familiar. I am, however, looking forward to my new Viking head, and I am sure that I will get used to it within a day or two, and - before you know it - I will be leading a raiding party to pillage the Northumberland coastline. I will report back on progress.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sepia Saturday 356 : Painting The Town Stone Yellow

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week features a 1945 photograph of a painting class in Sarasota, Florida.  My own photograph is one I took in, I think, the early 1970s in my brothers' studio in, as far as I can recall, Ireland. 

(Computer manufacturers should manufacture a special keyboard for older users which had special F Keys permanently linked to phrases such as "I seem to remember", "to the best of my recollection", and "I decided to go to bed early last night").

Over the years my brother Roger has had studios all over the world (his current studio is on the island of Dominica), but other than the work in progress, some things rarely change.

(I suspect that if you walked into his studio today you would find the same functional tables, and, as likely as not, the same typewriter pounding out letters to the editor of whichever newspaper who lives within the boundaries of).

Whilst the studio setting might remain the same, the style of the output has undergone changes over the years. You can get a flavour of his current style by visiting his BLOG which regularly features his work in progress. As an example of his approach, here is a painting he did twenty or more years ago of our home town, Halifax. Whilst his current work captures the vibrancy and colour of the Caribbean, his paintings of the West Riding equally reflect the warmth and elegant pride of industrial Yorkshire.

To see what others are doing with our Sepia Saturday theme this week, go to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and follow the links.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Henry Bown - Artist And Photographer

This is a small collection of three Victorian carte de visites all of which come from the London studios of the photographer Henry Bown. It appears that Henry started his working life as a picture framer, but turned to photography during the great studio photography boom of the 1870s. Like so many of his contemporaries, he described himself as an "artist and photographer", and by the turn of the century he had expanded his business to three studios in south London - in the New Kent Road and Jamaica Road and Spa Road in Bermondsey. Following the First World War, the business was taken over by his son, Charles, and Henry eventually died in 1921 at the age of 79.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Vulgar Abuse Of Mr Trump

I watched the press conference given by President Trump last night with interest: in particular his attack on fake news and the negative reporting he has been subject to by the world press. I never thought I might be capable of feeling sympathy for the man, but there would appear to be a thread of truth in his charges and such negative reporting of him seems to have been going on for longer than even he imagines. I came across this paragraph whilst browsing through a copy of the Western Times for Tuesday 22nd July 1884:-

I am happy to submit this example to Mr Trump and his team in order to fortify his growing bank of evidence against the dangers of a free press.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Delicate Wife Of Wentworth Woodhouse

This interesting Edwardian Cabinet Card photo was part of an album of old photographs I bought from an antique shop a few years ago and which I have only recently started investigating in detail. The photographer is "G H King of Wentworth, Near Rotherham" (there are no studio details on the reverse of the card), but I have not been able to find any record of a professional photographer of that name and location from the time the photograph must have been taken. There is, however, evidence of a certain George Henry King who was born in Conisbrough - a couple of miles up the road from Wentworth - and who, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, lived in Barrowfield Gate in Wentworth. I know Wentworth quite well and it is a small village, so the chances are that this is the same person.

In both the 1901 and the 1911 census, George Henry is listed as being employed as a "carter in gardens". Wentworth is particularly notable for being the location of Wentworth Woodhouse, the massive country home of the Wentworth family and famous for being the largest private home in Britain (The full and fascinating story of the house and the people who lived in it can be found in the book "Black Diamonds" by Catherine Bailey). I suspect that we are safe in assuming that G H King worked in the gardens of Wentworth Woodhouse and also was a keen amateur photographer. The fact that the photograph was taken by an amateur is consistent with it being taken out of doors rather than in a studio setting. Enterprising amateurs would have cards pre-printed with their names onto which they could stick paper photographs, thus producing the Cabinet Card format that was popular at the time.

So who is the woman? The census records show that George was married to Laura Louisa King who was born in Occold, Suffolk in 1875. The fact that she found herself living so far away from home makes me suspect that she may have worked in some capacity in the great house at some stage, and that the photograph of her was taken by her husband in the grounds. The only other reference to G H King I have been able to find is this advert from the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury of the 23rd August 1907.

Could this then be a photograph of Laura Louisa King, the delicate wife of Wentworth Woodhouse? Who knows - much of this tale is based upon guesswork and casual assumptions. If it is, however, we can take pleasure in noting that whilst George died in 1934, his delicate wife soldiered on - bringing up five children - until she died at the age of 76 in 1951.