Monday, July 31, 2017

Standing Questions Of A Family Nature


Whilst standing around today we have a long list of questions. Home on leave or just about to set off on a tour of duty? Dark days of war or a relatively more peaceful post-war world? And most of all, who are they and how did they find their way into the box that contains family photographs?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Story Yet To Be Written


This is a scan of a negative from a small batch I bought the other day. All the other negatives in the lot feature rather grand ladies at tea in country houses and hotels. This one seems to feature a little old man at the door of a large old barn. There is a story behind it. It's just not been written yet.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Sepia Saturday 378)

I am taking a short break from my "Standing Around" series in order to bring you someone who is "sitting around", and - more importantly - sitting in a rowing boat under a bridge. The bridge is important because it is my slightly laboured link to this week's Sepia Saturday theme image, which shows a picture of Taft Bridge in Washington DC. It must be admitted that Taft Bridge is a far grander structure than the bridge over Stanley Park Boating Lake in Blackpool, but a bridge is a bridge wherever it may be. My bridge forms part of a photograph taken by my Uncle Frank, and, because it is a Frank "The Cataloguer" Fieldhouse photo, I can tell you it was taken in Stanley Park, Blackpool in 1940. The importance of the date is clearly indicated by the next photograph in the album: Uncle Frank had swung the camera so that the lens was pointing to the sky and way up above you can just make out a warplane on patrol. He captioned that particular shot "Just A Reminder", and the two photographs together should, if nothing else, remind us of the importance of bridges.

Bridges join people and places together and allow relaxed passage for all. I always used to think that one of the great achievements of my postwar generation was that we had successfully constructed bridges following the madness of twentieth century wars. But as I watch some of those bridges being demolished and insularity coming to the forefront, I find myself questioning the value of this legacy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Stand And Deliver


Today's doorway photograph is a quite charming study of what I presume is a mother and daughter. Now, it may be that it was a carefully posed shot (the poor child being compelled to gaze up at her mother by any reasonable or unreasonable combination of carrot and stick), but I would be prepared to bet my old bulb shutter-release against a new SD card that it was a natural moment that the photographer cleverly caught on camera. As for the who and the where, I have no idea. As for the when, I would once again guess the early 1930s.

In a comment on yesterday's post, my friend Heldrun Khokhar asked about the strange hole in the wall next to the feet of the leaning man. This was what was known in these parts as a "coal hole". It was an opening which - via a chute - gave access to the cellar of the house and through which coal could be delivered. Coal delivery men along with their donkey and carts would deliver coal on a weekly basis. The coal would be in sacks which would be emptied down "t'hole". I can still just remember coal being delivered to our house when I was young, although, by then, we had an outside coal-house where it was stored.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Slouch And Light At No. 2


House doorways had two advantages as far as photographic locations in the first half of the twentieth century were concerned. They were the closest and best source of natural light in the days when flash guns were semi-controlled complex chemical explosions. Secondly, they provided convenient surfaces to lean against so that a relaxed, informal pose could be adopted. Slouch and light at number 2.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Skipping Around Gipping


If you look at the full print, there is just one clue as to where this photograph was taken - the word "Gipping" near the top of the terraced house. Gipping is a small village in Suffolk with a population of less than 100. I have taken a wander around the lanes and roads of the village - courtesy of Google Street View - and I can see nothing resembling our little brick terraced house. 

Looking carefully at the family, I don't think they are agricultural labourers - which they probably would be if they lived in Gipping, Suffolk. This suggests that Gipping is the first part of a street designation - Gipping Lane, Gipping Terrace, or the like - and is nothing to do with the Suffolk village.

I live on Dorchester Road which is nowhere near Dorchester. Just around the corner is Cumberland Avenue which had never been within sausage-swinging distance of Cumberland. So it could be that Gipping Terrace has never been within a skipping rope of Gipping.

Friday, July 21, 2017

On The Half-Life Of Houses

There is just too much going on at the moment. There is little time to think, little time to read, less time to write. There is just about enough time to stand outside the house and have a photograph taken. So to mark time during these busy summer weeks, here is a series of twenty people standing outside their houses.


Different objects mark time in different ways. Music becomes old with all the spinning speed of an old 78rpm record. Books take longer to age, but eventually they tire of being modern novels and age into classics. Houses have a longer half-life: look at this bungalow today - in bright colour and with plastic bins by the door and cars lining the drive - and you would still call it modern. But this photograph must have been taken eighty years ago and this young girl must now be grown very old indeed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sepia Saturday 376 : The Upside Down Life Of George

It may be a little late in the day, but perhaps we should put the flags out to celebrate the fact that I have managed a Sepia Saturday post at all, after a week of carpet fitters, carpet cleaners, floor installers, dishwasher repairers and dog groomers. And hanging the flags out would be a most suitable response to our Sepia Saturday prompt image for this week (OK, last week) which featured the celebratory flags being flown to mark the opening of a new sports pavilion.

I think I have managed to get a good match with this early twentieth century real photographic postcard of the pavilion and bowling green at Dalbeattie. the card was part of the collection passed down to me by my great uncle Fowler Beanland. It was sent to him at his address in Swan Street, Longtown in Cumberland and therefore must date from the early years of the first decade of the century when he was living and working there. He had moved there in 1904 from his home town of Keighley following the small textile machine manufacturing business he owned with his father and his brothers going into receivership. At the time he would have been 32 years old.

The card comes from "George" whom we must assume was a friend and one-time fellow worker. As far as I can make out, the message is as follows:-

Dear Fowler,
I thought this card would suit you, I was down there tonight. They close at the end of this month. I have been kept busy here working until 8 every night and it was 11 last night. We are very busy. Perhaps I will find time to write you a letter and then I can tell you the news, say day to day every fortnight - had a day overtime and it made a full week for me. How is the clip ties going on now. Hope you are well, remember to my friends.
From George.
At the top is written a postscript:-
(I am lodging with the boss)

All that is relatively straight forward, but there is another message, written upside down between the first few lines. As far as I can make out this says:
"ten of us work here. it is 9.50. love looking around the shop for the nights"

Whatever that means I have no idea at all, but it is fun to speculate. Whatever the answer may be, it does illustrate the rather strange upside down life of Fowlers' friend George.

For more Sepia Saturday posts, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Cloth-Cap Day

For want of something better to do, I am gathering together a small collection of my old black and white photographs for a slim, self-published volume. Those who manage to annoy me over the next month or two will be presented with a copy for Christmas - so be careful. This is the first page -

THE BEACH AT SKEGNESS (1980) : The children brave the water; that's what children always do. Those with more experience of life, more knowledge of how the North Sea can siphon-up the chill of winter; they keep their hands firmly in their pockets. It's a cloth-cap outing, it's wool-jacket weather, it's a hands-in-pockets day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An Early Example Of Photoshopping For A Biscuit Tin

I've been colourising again! My starting image is another glass negative from the batch I bought a couple of weeks ago. By just holding the glass up to the light it was a little unclear what the image was, but after a good high-quality scan and a digital wash and brush-up, what appears is a quite charming Victorian photograph of a woman and a child with a hoop.  Why anyone believed that they could improve on this image I can't understand, but I handed the digital scan over to a mate of mine (a certain Pierre-Auguste Renoir) to see what he could do with it.

The result is quite cute, but perhaps a little gaudy. He has added too much blue to her dress and got rid of the poor mother entirely! Amusing as it is, I can't see the colourful result stand the test of time. It looks more like a biscuit-tin than a serious attempt at photographic art.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gladys And The Other Woman

My father must have taken this picture in the early 1930s. That is my mother, Gladys, sat there on the left, looking so pale she almost leaches into the white limestone boulders. But who is the woman on the right, snapped up by the greedy camera lens? It could, of course, be nothing more than a case of inaccurate framing (this was the age of tiny viewfinders and painfully slow lenses, after all). It could be a shot that ranks up there with the steeple growing out of Uncle Frank's head or the case of Auntie Annie's missing legs. It could be.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Who Could Possibly Want To Buy A Boot For Their Car?

This is a series of three photographs I took yesterday at the weekly North Bridge Car Boot Sale in Halifax.. North Bridge is the Victorian iron and stone bridge that was built in 1871 to span the valley of the River Hebble. It is solid and rather proper, doing the job it was created for with a minimum of fuss, rather like some corseted Victorian great-aunt. By comparison the concrete pillars of Burdock Way - which was opened in 1973 - strut their way across the valley like a disco-dancer in platform heels. Each week, within the shadow of these two fine structures, dozens of people set up stalls selling everything that is cheap and occasionally cheerful. And the Victorian aunt looks down on all the activity, scratches her wrought-iron bolts and murmurs "who could possibly want to buy a boot for their car?"

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sepia Saturday 365 : Diving Into A Too Blue Sea

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows a brave swimmer about to dive into what appears to be a cold sepia lake. Even on a globally-warmed summer's day, the prospect is enough to send a shiver down my spine, so I stayed indoors instead and searched through my ever-growing collection of old and unwanted photographs in order to find something that fit the bill. I eventually found a small, old faded photograph of five men in a boat along with a sixth man who is already in, what appears to be, an equally cold sea.

On a whim - and because it is the kind of thing that you can do when you are retired and trying to avoid mowing the lawn - I decided to see whether I could make the sea a little more inviting. There was an App which claimed to automatically "colourise" monochrome prints that I had been meaning to try for some time, so I subjected my little grey print as an experimental offering. The result (see below) was quite good - it reminded me a little of those early twentieth century "colourised" picture postcards where blocks of slightly inaccurate colour appear to have been applied by a pig-bristle brush. There were, however, two drawbacks to this approach to turning the sea blue: the process reduced the size of the original image to a scale fit only for a mobile phone, and - more importantly - you had to pay 10 pence for the magical transformation.

Being a Yorkshireman, I quickly moved on to a second approach and that was attempting to colourise the image myself by inexpertly manipulating various brushes, layers and filters in Photoshop. The result (see below) was not too dissimilar to the App conversion, except that it retained the original size of the image and cost 10 pence less. Perhaps I should practice more, because it must be said that there is something not quite right about the results I achieved. The sea is a little too blue, a little too inviting. It might work for Malibu Beach, but not for Cleethorpes.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Stained Memories Of The Hotel Du Midi

When you are scanning old prints, there is always the chance that you will discover some detail hidden deep within the faded sepia layers of a photograph taken a hundred years or more ago. When you are scanning old glass negatives, the potential for discovery is so much greater, but such discoveries do not always enhance the image. 

This is a scan of a half-plate glass negative - the first of a set of four I bought recently. It is a group gathered outside a hotel - the Hotel Du Midi - in what looks like the late nineteenth century. It is by no means at all, a perfect image: it is blurred, it is cock-eyed and it is badly stained by some chemical substance or other.

There are, however, still delights hidden away within the silver salts. Shapes and features shout out questions with all the power of a megaphone. What was the gathering? Why are some of the participants dressed like rather grand domestic servants whilst others look like something out of Central Casting on a bad day?

I did a quick Google search for "Hotel Du Midi" and, of course, came up with a list as long as a baguette. Even when you take into account the ageing process and the stains, I can't see our Hotel Du Midi in Paris or Nice or Geneva. Our hotel was tucked away up some provincial cock-eyed road, stained into our memories. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Walking Backwards : A Hot Day In York

Walking Backwards : 

It is possible to think of each old photograph as a step into history. If it is a photograph of unknown people in unknown places, it is, by definition, a step into the unknown with all the uncertainty and potential for excitement that implies. If it is a photograph you are familiar with - or better still, a photograph you took decades ago - it is a step into more familiar territory, rich in clues to memories that have long been in a state of hibernation. If it is a strip of negatives (photographs that are linked together by celluloid certainty) it is not a step, but a walk through history. Scanning a long forgotten strip of negatives from forty or fifty years ago is like walking backwards through time and one of my favourite occupations.

A Hot Day In York

It was a hot day in York, many years ago. I suspect it was sometime in the 1980s - the fashions and the cars look right for that period. I can vaguely remember walking around the streets, camera in hand, looking for photographs, but the memory is as hazy as the heat rising from the warm stone sets. The narrow streets were as busy as they always are in York, but this would have been the era before shopping malls and retail parks. People were drawn to the central shops, drawn to the river bank, drawn to the street entertainers, and drawn to a cooling pint or two.


Monday, July 03, 2017

Life In The Blink Of A SIM Card

We see ourselves in two ways - I am talking about our physical selves rather than the realms of psychological insight - either through the looking glass or in photographs. Through the looking glass is, like the world of Alice, strongly influenced by our imagination - how many of us go through a routine of squinting or posing from some long familiar angle in order to see ourselves in our perceived best way? Photographs, on the other hand, tell fewer lies. This meant that one hundred years ago there were a limited number of opportunities to be captured for posterity - the occasional trip to the local photography studio or a gathering of friends and family posing for the definitive group photograph. Once taken, that was it: that was the "you" that would be shared by friends and family across the generations.

These days things are very different indeed. In the age of the selfie and costless digital photographs, we can sift and edit until we find the shot that best represents our imagined self. Inevitably such selfies will be complete with smiling faces, having a wonderful time in some exciting venue.

Such thoughts were stimulated the other day by two unrelated experiences. An old Edwardian portrait fell through the letterbox showing a group of young people captured for ever - complete with frowns and cares and unflattering angles. I have no idea who they are, but that doesn't matter. The photograph represents a moment in history which is unique. Later that day I found myself at an event called "Monkeyfest" which was full of very loud music, very good beers and far too many people of a third of my age or less. When not bouncing around in time to some pulsating loud beat, they were taking selfies of themselves having a good time. Selfie after selfie after selfie - selecting the ones they liked the best and deleting the rest. I am quite sure that the people in the Edwardian photograph would have liked such an opportunity to fine-tune their image, but they were stuck with the one take. Their consolation is that, over a century later, we are still able to revisit that day and that sepia photograph. Sadly, the Monkeyfest photos will be lost for ever in the blink of a SIM card.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...