Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sepia Saturday 178 : Three Faces Of Sepia


Our prompt for Sepia Saturday 178 features a face, and this, in many ways, is an easy challenge because the human face must be one of the most photographed subjects of all time. I have chosen a triptych of sepia faces, none of whom are known to me, but all of which feature somewhere or other in my collection of old photographs. They are from different times and different places, but they all have a story to tell if we care to dig below the surface of the photographic emulsion.

The first face comes from an old school photograph which must date back to about 1920. My mother is elsewhere on the photograph, but today I want to focus on just one of the other faces : the girl on the back row on the left. It is a lovely classic face, the kind of face that could equally grace a mill-workers' daughter from Bradford, or a young lady from a country house. There is a determination within her features, a determination which would no doubt lead her somewhere in life. The demographics mean that it is almost certain that her life is now over. One longs to know what kind of life that was.

My second face belongs to a generation later. It appears in a photograph that features my Auntie Miriam (that's her at the left with the dog), but my Uncle Frank's usual obsessive cataloguing has failed to offer a clue as to who the young land might be. I suppose the photograph dates from around 1950, so there is a fair chance that the lad - now a man - is still alive. In place of the determination in the first face, I see an element of introspection and possibly sadness. Perhaps it is my imagination that is running away with itself, perhaps the lad went on to enjoy a happy and prosperous life. Now as I look again, there is a passing resemblance to a young Eric Morecambe, although there is little sunshine in his smile.

For my third face we need to go back to the late Victorian period and this fine old Cabinet Card from the studio of A J Anderson in Luton. Once again, I have no idea who the lady is : I bought the photograph in a second-hand shop. In many ways it is more difficult to read this face : are we seeing pride or modesty, certainty or doubt? We get fewer clues from such studio portraits : it is almost as though the photographer is air-brushing out personality as well as blemishes. You might imagine that the whole concept of air-brushing is an invention of the digital age and the celebrity magazine. However, when I scanned the photograph and dug down deep into the pixels, I discovered evidence that this particular Victorian photographer was more than happy to lighten a shadow under the eyes or lengthen and thicken an eyebrow.


Such things are all part of the story of the face.

To see more aspects of the Sepia face, visit the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the various links you will find there.

25 comments:

  1. I like the boy's glasses. I'm very surprised to learn about the early airbrushing techniques. Aren't you the clever one to uncover this fact!

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    1. The glasses are typical of a type prescribed by the NHS (National Health Service) in the post war years. Generations of schoolboys had to put up with them before styles were changed.

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  2. Re: the last photo. Photoshopping before there was Photoshop? Interesting!

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    1. Indeed, Roy. And you can bet that it was a lot more time-consuming than the various dodges available on Photoshop.

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  3. Iteresting to see the retouching, which appears to have been done to the print before it was completely dry, rather than the negative.

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    1. Yes, it looks like a combination of adding ink (to the eyebrow) and scratching off shadow.

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  4. Victorian Photoshop. i wonder what people will say of our photos in the decades to come.

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    1. I just hope that they will still have them available in order to be able to say something about them. I do worry that a whole generation of digital photographs will be lost.

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  5. The young school girl--I see great sadness in her face, dark shadows under her eyes. I hope the life she had was a good one.

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    1. Maybe sadness, but also a determination. Let's both decide that she had a good life in front of her.

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  6. Oh, that first girl! Such poignancy here...I'm absolutely drawn to her. Shows the power of photography, doesn't it, that all these years later, somebody (me) still connects so powerfully!

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    1. Yes, the power of photography and the power of the human face. there is a timelessness about that one in particular.

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  7. I don't see the determination in the first photo. I see sadness. I wonder about her story. To me, it seems that she had a tough life, not enough food or sleep. She wants to be some where else?

    Yes very interesting to see the retouching. I will have to have a closer look at some of mine.

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    1. The strange thing about that first face is that it looks different in the cropped portrait compared with the group photo - although it is exactly the same.

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  8. I can hear the girl in the first photo saying, "what? Not again!" amazing the tales we can put into these haunting faces from the past, even better when we know them.

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  9. The girl in the first photo looks very sad to me. And she looks a lot older than she does in the full class picture.

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  10. You make all three photos interesting. We do at look these faces and wonder what happened. I like how you show that early photographers messed with their pictures to make them look better..

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  11. The human face is fascinating, and interesting to observe as it ages...You've just given me an idea for a post. Thanks.

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  12. I had some difficulties when I was commenting from my iPad yesterday, so I'm back today (at my computer) and will try again as I don't see my comment here and wouldn't want you to think I didn't stop by! I found the early photo retouching very interesting. I need to always take a close look at my own photos. And I see your point about a face out of context looking different regarding the girl from the school portrait.

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  13. The first little girl looks on the verge of tears. The young lad looks like he wants to get out of there ASAP. The final picture looks to me like an intelligent, curious young woman enjoying having her photo taken. Three very different photos depicting three very different moods. The facial expressions appear to resonate differently with each of the commenters...I suppose reflective of their own life experiences. Lovely post.

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  14. Three excellent choices, Alan to show off your refined art of observation. The first photo resembles so many of the school photos we've seen the last few weeks. Each personality pops from their individual faces and then as you say, they change when considered together. I wonder if that girl might be recovering from an illness.

    The next with Aunt Miriam looks to be on a narrowboat maybe? The boy definitely looks out of place to be outdoors. His features resemble the couple behind, especially the woman.

    I can see why you collected the last young woman. Her youth has just bloomed with that first maturity which has a classic rose quality. Her hair seems curiously shorter than I would expect for a style of this period.

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  15. Photographers of all eras intended to show the best photographs possible,
    so alterations were a necessity. It just got easier with time to do so.
    My friends appreciate those alterations, sparing their ego in the process.
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  17. The glasses on the boy deceived me to begin with; I was sure I knew him but it was just the glasses after all. (corrected spelling, this time.)

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  18. Very Telling That In "The Luton Lady's" Photo,she is even sat sideways,almost trying to avoid the camera.......

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