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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Why Not Have It Enlarged?


What a wonderful invention: a machine that takes your photograph and weighs you at the same time. And even better - it prints the resulting weight on the photograph so that you have something to remind you of that day you had an extra large portion of fish and chips, not to mention the knickerbocker glory. And if that isn't enough, you can have the whole experienced enlarged for an extra three pence. There can only be one thing better: get you nephew to scan the photograph eighty two years later and put it on the internet for all the world to see.

The photograph shows Miriam Burnett with her then fiancĂ© (later husband), Frank Fieldhouse. When this photograph was taken in 1936, they were only a few years into their twelve year engagement.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Twenty Images : 4. The Man With The Self-Changing Gear


My life continues to be dominated by the Herculean task of clearing the garage of thirty years of accumulated rubbish, so that a new door can be installed in ten days time. I have managed to dispose of a library's worth of books, a china shop's worth of cups and saucers, and enough old files, forms and facsimiles to keep a bureaucrat happy for months. A big part of the problem is that I find so many of the things I am supposed to put into rubbish sacks or charity bags fascinating, and so I attempt to rescue them from the shredder, and share them with all those other people who find 1931 adverts for Armstrong Siddeley cars equally enthralling. And that, of course, means you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Twenty Images : 3. Booth Denton - The Grocer Of Mirfield


If you spend your life digging in the genealogical allotments of ephemera, you learn to welcome an unusual name. You can keep your "John Smiths" and your "Tom Browns" : give me a "Roderick Trencheon-Philpotts" any day. Or, more specifically, give me a Booth Denton - which is the name pencilled-in on the reverse of this Victorian Cabinet Card. I bought it because it comes from a local Huddersfield studio (Sellman & Co), and because it features a beard you ignore at your peril. A little spade work reveals that Booth Denton was a grocer from Mirfield (a few miles to the east of where I live) who was born in 1831 and died in 1894. He not only weighed out the tea, and parcelled up the cheddar cheese, he was also a bit of a pillar of the local community, who sought election to the local Board of Guardians on at least one occasion. He looks a formidable character - you wouldn't be too keen on going back to the shop to complain that your butter had gone rancid, or your flour had mouse droppings in it.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Twenty Images : 2. On Finding A New Motor Hearse Up My Back Passage


The great garage clear-out brought to light a crumbling old copy of the Halifax Courier and Guardian dated the 4th February 1922. The big news of the day was not the economic and political crisis that Britain was going through, nor was it the developing Irish Civil War: it was the delivery of a new motor hearse to the Halifax undertakers, Messrs J Marsh & Co.

Twenty Images : 1. Don't Be A Doctor


Life seems to be getting in the way of blogging again. If it is not clearing out my various back passages it is helping my son and his wife prepare for moving house later this month. My life seems to flash by in a series of images, so the least I can do is to share them.

The first is a scan of a playing card from the early part of last century - part of a set that was kindly given to me. I dedicate this particular image to my moving children and all their colleagues who somehow manage to care for patients, their own families and move house - all at the same time.

Friday, November 09, 2018

How I Found My Brain Up My Back Passage

EXCAVATIONS UP MY BACK PASSAGE : SERIES II

The need to initiate a second series of "Excavations Up My Back Passage" has been brought about by the impending arrival of a new garage door. In order to install it, the garage needs clearing of a twenty year accumulation of rubbish - an extension of the accumulation that already fills the back passage running behind the bedrooms. So once again our intrepid blogger goes into domestic archaeological mode .... and his first find is something rather special.


Hidden within a cardboard box containing a set of unused Filofax Diary pages from 1998, I came across a white envelope containing five Polaroid photographs. They appeared to be a set of graphic photographs of an operation - in one of them a scalpel is clearly visible. I didn't take me long to realise that I was, in fact, looking at my own brain. The photographs date from the Spring of 1998 when I underwent surgery to have my cochlear implant fitted - the device that miraculously allowed me to hear again! I now remember the surgeon giving me the photographs after the operation - both to illustrate what he had been able to do and to assure me that, indeed, I did actually have a brain. In the illustration above, the wire can be seen that takes the electronic signal from the receiver - that is bolted in there somewhere - to the hearing nerve fibres and onwards deep into my brain. It was a remarkable piece of surgery and a remarkable piece of bio-engineering. Twenty years later, the system is still in place and working just fine; and allowing me to hear the clicking of the computer keyboard as I type this post.