Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sepia Descending Into Madness

Uncle Frank was a great album keeper. He took photographs back in the days when photography involved more of an investment of time and money than    any click of a mobile phone keypad. He had the film processed, the photographs printed and then he pasted them in presentation albums which he labelled with a style and exactitude that shine down the decades. One album is headed "Tours 1939" and it lists the various resorts he and his wife Miriam visited in that apocalyptic year. With the exception of London, all are seaside resorts within easy travelling distance of the mill towns of West Yorkshire where Frank and Miriam lived. As I turn the pages in the album I see a sepia world that is slowly descending into madness, a process that is perfectly illustrated by a photograph of a German bomber silhouetted like a tiny dust speck above the skies of West Lancashire.


The photograph I have chosen for my "Picture Within" feature this week comes from a series that were taken in Blackpool. In an age when amateur photographs were mainly of people, Frank took a good number of pictures of things and places. The one above is labelled simply "on the pier" and, as far as I know, is not supposed to feature any particular person,

It is when we drill down into the detail of the photograph that we discover the most delightful group of people on the extreme right of the original photograph. If I had my brothers' skills of sculpture I would would want to cast this group in bronze and capture forever the lounging knee being transformed by history into the uniformed figures preparing to march out of the picture into the future.

I remember Uncle Frank as a bit of a figure of fun in the family. He collected stamps and bus tickets and spent an age in the 1950s recording television adverts on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Even though he has been dead some forty years, I would like to take this opportunity to issue a public apology. Frank was a genius, a man years ahead of his time, a presser of social history who approached his task with the skill and dedication of any Victorian flower-presser. He left me with not only a galaxy of old photographs, but within each of those galaxies there are hidden endless systems of pictures within.

14 comments:

  1. Wow, fascinating. I wish every family had had at least one Uncle Frank. Several of the photos passed down to me from my mother's childhood and young adulthood are labeled on the photo itself, and it sure has helped a lot with my own meager attempts at family research.

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  2. SF : "Every family should have an Uncle Frank" I rather like that idea.

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  3. Yes, I agree, every family should have an Uncle Frank. What foresight he had, to preserve life in these images. I'm also taken with the small group above that's engaged in conversation, one chap with arm folded. What might they be discussing and what did life feel like for them?

    You are so right: universes within universes within universes in every image.

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  4. Teresa : Yes there is a kind of photographic Mandelbrot effect.

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  5. Like Fox my Mom is that have all the antiques and lovely pictures, in the past I dont see alot but know Alan I appreciate all these nice pictures she have and she passed me (lol)
    Lovely pictures dear ALAN!!

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  6. You had me looking for the German plane in the first photo until I released what you had done. You could not be disappointed with these photos - super.

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  7. I so enjoy learning about new places and things and such I so often fall upon in your posts! The Blackpool for one...and how wonderful it would be to have an Uncle Frank right now! Lucky you!

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  8. that is so cool...like a chronicle of the trip...yeah i like silvers idea as well..has to be really cool to look back...

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  9. I often wonder where my Picasa photos will be in 50 years. My kodachrome 25 slides are in pristine shape after the same period of time. The ones that didn't get thrown away along with the cardboard box that is!

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  10. I love what you're doing with these photographs, Alan. It fits so neatly with imagining the action just before and after the shutter snapped.

    Did any of those tape recordings survive?

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  11. These are fascinating. I'm starting to do this as well. I haven't gone so far as to post anything, but I'm looking beyond the immediate image in my photos. Perhaps we should have a Sepia Saturday offshoot? Or perhaps a monthly edition?

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  12. We are fortunate that there were "Uncle Franks." They left some neat stuff behind and showed the way forward as in this case photography.

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  13. Are you sure it wasn't an album of pictures of the city of Tours in France?

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  14. You're right that most family albums mainly show family (!) - and it's rare to see photos of general scenes. But even in the family shots I guess there are things to be gleaned from the background and context. I MUST find time to dig some old ones out and explore them.

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