Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Two Pictures, Three Girls


My post today features two images from my family photograph collection. Between them they feature three girls – and three methods of identification. The first photograph is the later of the two, and probably dates from around 1928. It shows two teenage girls with a Japanese umbrella and the hint of a painted Japanese scene in the background: the kind of props that were popular in photographic studios in the 1920s. The girl on the right – as you look at the photograph – is my mother, Gladys Beanland. The girl on the left is called Florrie – and I know that because of a pencilled description on the reverse of the print.


If the first photograph depends on familial recognition and pencilled annotation, in order to accurately identify the second photograph, I had to turn to new technology. I thought I recognised the young girl in the studio portrait, that must have been taken in the first half of the 1920s, but I couldn’t be sure. I then submitted the image to the facial recognition programme on Photoshop Lightroom, and it agrees with me – the sitter is Gladys’s sister – my Auntie, Amy Beanland. Two lovely old photographs, three lovely young ladies, and – thanks to modern facial recognition and old-fashioned pencilled notes – three identifications.


Thursday, December 06, 2018

There Really Should Be A Word For It


Vocabulary has always a tendency to lag behind technological progress - which is why we have a word for a merchant who deals in candles made out of sheep's intestines ("tallower" in case you are interested), but no word to adequately describe those people who use social media to tell you what they had for breakfast.  One activity there really should be a word for is that of adding something unique to the World Wide Web. Obviously we are well past the stage where that is going to be something of great interest to humanity - such as an image of an undiscovered Van Gogh or a cute cat jumping up at a sewing basket - but even the most esoteric of things will be go interest to someone, either now or 500 years in the future. The internet provides us all with an opportunity of adding something to that monumental time capsule called documentary history.


So whatever the word for the activity might be - I am doing it now with this scan of a small (9cm x 6cm) card which must date from the Second World War. It is calling for women to volunteer for the 69th Anti-Aircraft Command Troop of the Royal Artillery, which had a camp on Dewsbury Road, Leeds. Women between the ages of 18 and 40 (seventeen and a half with parent's consent) were urgently needed to supply target information for anti-aircraft guns. Not only was there full rates of pay in camp, there was also a bounty of £9 per year!

The card comes from the collection of my late Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam, although there is no record of Aunty Miriam ever signing up. Perhaps the bounty wasn't attractive enough. I have carefully checked Google and as far as I can discover there are no other images of such cards - so this is my own personal contribution to documentary history, whatever that might be called.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Negative Thoughts : Square Bales


This is a scan of a negative I took over fifty years ago, in the mid 1960s. I can date it because of the rest of the shots on the strip of negatives - but even if they had not been there, I would have some idea of the date by the shape of the straw bales. These are good, old-fashioned, farmers' back-breaking, rectangular bales which would emerge from the baler machines of the 1960s. Just about the time I was taking this photograph a young graduate student at Iowa State University was working on his masters thesis which incorporated a design for a baling machine that could produce circular bales which could be easily pushed around. By the end of the decade, the shape of the countryside was changing and my photograph had become history.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Experiments With A DNA Camera


Stories abound about so-called primitive tribes who would shun photographers in the belief that cameras can capture the spirit of the photographers' subjects. As with many such stories, it is of dubious veracity: but if such tribes ever did exist I have a degree of sympathy with their beliefs. Nothing comes close to capturing the very essence of a person like a photograph. That was true of the 1930s - when this photograph of my father, Albert, was taken - and it is still true in this modern age of the digital selfie (although the spirit exposed by some filter-bleached offerings might not be what the subject intended).

When I look at this photograph of my father on a seaside beach (the chances are it will have been Cleethorpes), I see him ... and then I see my brother, and then myself, and then my son, and even - if I squint a little - my grandson. What that box camera of eighty years ago did was to capture, not the soul or the spirit, but a decent chunk of DNA.