Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Do Old Men Dream In Black And White?


I recall, many, many years ago, having a discussion with my brother, Roger, as to whether we dream in colour or black and white. I was a young lad taking photographs, with a budget that could not even imagine the expenses involved in colour photography. He was older, wiser and a "proper artist" with tubes of watercolour paint of every hue. "Of course we don't dream in black and white, black and white is a completely unnatural way of seeing the world brought about by the technical inability of you photographers".  The conversation took place sixty years ago and therefore I might not have remembered it word-for-word, but it went something like that. And no doubt, before the day is out, Roger will be correcting my faulty memory from the other side of the world.

We may not dream in black and white, but it is the palette of choice of my memory. I took this photograph fifty years ago on one of those little afterthought terraces up Southowram Bank in Halifax. Surely the grass must have been green, the stone brown and the sky blue: but I don't remember it like that.

There is an enthusiasm at the moment to colourise old photographs. To do so, you make judgements about the correct colours to introduce to a scene. Sky is usually blue, and there is a fair chance that grass is green. But when I was a young, the sky was usually a mucky grey colour, and the grass could be as black as coal or as white as an old man's beard. The world was monochrome .... and I still dream of it that way.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Perspective On Age


Just for a change, I know precisely where I took this photograph from some forty-odd years ago. The houses are still there, pinned to the side of Southowram Bank with all the gravity-defying stubbornness that only a Yorkshire builder can demonstrate. It is Blaithroyd Lane, Halifax, and if you turn to Google Street View or the like, the houses are unchanged.  Trees, however, have invaded the hillside since this photograph was taken in the early 1970s, and the scale of the scene seems to have been transformed. You get the impression from this photograph that you could have watched a match at the Shay football ground from the back room window without the need of even a basic pair of binoculars. These days, the Shay seems a bus ride away. Perhaps it is the trees, maybe it was the lens I was using in my camera back then. More likely it is age-related perspective syndrome (ARPS) brought about by a surfeit of life.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Classic British Seaside


The classic British seaside: sands, sea, boats and buckets. It doesn't matter where it is or when it is. It can be a precious day snatched from the steam-filled clutches of a Victorian mill, or an escape from a Corona-driven lockdown. I have photographs of my Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam sat on a beach during World War II watching bombers fly overhead. If the sun is even hinting at the possibility of coming out, then we British will head for the nearest coastline. We are lucky; for most of us they are far enough away to be a change, but near enough not to be a challenge. 

This is an old print from a cast-aside album. The photographer may have wanted to capture his (or her) Auntie Vi or little Ernest. What they actually captured was a small work of art, and the very essence of the classic British seaside.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Reflections On Beauty


Like anyone else, I can see the beauty in a natural landscape. Find me a photograph of craggy hills sweeping down to mirror-smooth lakes and I will swoon with the best of them. Get me a picture of ripe-rich grain swaying in an evening breeze against a bucolic green background, and I will pin it over my mantlepiece. But ....

But, I come from Halifax, and my West Yorkshire genes are programmed to find beauty in muck and grime. In the grey sky being reflected on stone cobbles. In black chimneys punctuating flat clouds. In mischievous curves creeping into twisted railway lines. 

A sack-load of art on the back of an old wagon parked in the shade of North Bridge, Halifax. I took this photograph fifty years ago. It's all been knocked down now and they have built a nice new Leisure Centre in its place. There are probably inspirational pictures inside the Leisure Centre of mountain paths and bright green fields.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Some Escape


This old photograph of mine dates from fifty years ago and it shows a mill fire escape somewhere in Halifax. The good old days, before all this health and safety nonsense, when your mill could catch fire at the drop of a fag end, and a swift exit down the fire escape would give you more thrills than a trip to a theme park; followed by a hundred foot plunge onto a stone cobbled lane. People weren't mollycoddled back then; their bodies weren't wrapped in cotton wool ..... just their lungs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Where The Art Is


The French writer, Andre Gide, once said, "art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” (well Google says he said it).  Gide died in 1951 and therefore he missed out on smart phone apps. If he had lived on and managed to download a handful of camera apps for his iPhone, he might have considered amending his little homily to, "art is a collaboration between Apps and the artist, and the less the artist does the better". 

My recent experimentation with smartphone apps leads me to question much of the accepted narrative of art history. Were the likes of Gaugin, Van Gogh, and Monet artistic geniuses way ahead of their time, or did they have access to a Beta version of Adobe's new Photoshop Camera App? There are enough conspiracy theories going the rounds at the moment and I am reluctant to add to them - but I think we are due an explanation.
Street In Queensbury

Honeysuckle

Shepherds Thorn Lane

A Passage To Halifax


Halifax in transition again: blocks of flats, mill chimneys and gas lights. I must have taken this photograph in the late 1960s, but as with so many of my old photographs, I can't quite work out where I took it from. Wherever it was, it is Halifax in a stone picture frame.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Temporal Adrenalin


Most of us respond positively to a challenge. I don't mean serious, grown-up challenges such as dry rot in your floorboards or your wife running off with the milkman, but life-enhancing challenges such as climbing a mountain or collecting matchbox labels. For some people it is pedalling a bike backwards up a very steep hill (good morning, Martin), for others it is skiing blindfolded down a precipice (how are you today, Ian); but for me it has always been dating old photographs.

For some reason, for the last shot on this particular strip of negatives, my attention was caught by a row of posters. The photograph may be of limited artistic interest, but what it lacks in creativity it more than makes up for with temporal significance. What us date-spotters love more than anything is a watershed, and what better watersheds have there been in the modern era than decimalisation. Back in February 1971 the world changed, and that transition from 12/6 to 62.5p provides nerds like me with endless pleasure. We therefore know that the photograph predates decimalisation. 

There are dates on the posters, but no years, but dates themselves can be a useful tool in pinning down the exact year. The wrestling poster features a contest between Mick McManus and Mick McMichael, which, in itself, isn't much use, as they seem to have fought each other on a weekly basis for more than a decade. But if they wrestled on Wednesday 13th August it must have been either in 1963, 1969 or 1975. The first of those dates is too early for most of my photographic activity, the last is after the introduction of decimal currency, and therefore we are left with August 1969.

The qualifying round of the British Speedway Northern Riders Championship at the Halifax Stadium on the 9th August is the clincher, the detailed records held on the Official Website of British Speedway confirm that the event took place that night in Halifax in 1969 (Eric Boocock was the winner, by the by).

So, there we have it. I took this photograph in July or August 1969. Now that is settled, where's my bungee jumping cord?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

1949


My weekly instalment of a photograph from each year of my life is an appropriate one as, on Fathers' Day, it features my father, Albert, and me. It is doubly appropriate because his birthday would have been next week - he was born on the 25th June 1911. Happy Birthday, Happy Fathers' Day.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Strange Lockdown Hobbies No. 257 : A Tumbling We Will Go


My dear wife bought me a rock tumbler for my birthday. It's not just any rock tumbler, it's a National Geographic Variable Speed Professional Rock Tumbler! It is designed to stimulate my curiosity, occupy my stagnant mind, fill the empty hours of lockdown, and open my eyes to a world of beauty I had never known was there. Having watched my fill of box-sets and scanned my way through a lifetime of old photos, this new hobby - "a fascinating hobby for all the family" - is designed to keep me out of mischief. 

If you are thinking of taking up rock tumbling as a way of coping with the trials and tribulations of modern living, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of before you embark on this enthralling hobby. First, it is by no means a fast-track to instant gratification. As soon as I took the machine out of the box, I got a warning of what might lie ahead. There are two dials on it, one to adjust the speed and the other to adjust the time of the tumbling cycle. The latter dial deals only in days! Further investigation suggests that a normal cycle would be about five days tumbling with Grit #1, followed by 8 days with Grit #2 .... etc, so by the time all the various grades of grinding grit have been used you are talking about weeks if not months of constant tumbling. That may not be a problem for everyone, but if, like me, you are advancing in years, you need to ask yourself whether you or the rocks will be ground down the first.

The second potential problem results from the grinding process itself. The rocks, along with the grit and the water, sit in a robber sealed container which is constantly turning. Now I am deaf, but even I am aware that it makes a considerable amount of noise. It is currently sat at the other end of my desk, tumbling away, making so much noise that my desk is vibrating. Lucy the Dog can hear the noise and has now abandoned my study. Neighbours from up the street are beginning to gather - observing appropriate social distancing measures, we are, after all, a law abiding neighbourhood - and discuss the possible source of the noise coming from the bottom end of the street. Birds have abandoned our garden, and cows in the fields further down the main road are lying down in the field in the middle of the day.

I am sure it will all be worth it, when, in a month or three, the results of my first experiment in rock tumbling emerge from the tumbling tank. The instruction book warns me not to be impatient, after all, it cheerily tells me, it takes oceans and rivers millions of years to achieve the results I will be able to see in as little as a year or two. Beautifully polished stones that are as stunning as gemstones. We shall see! I will keep you posted about the outcome.


Hunting A Finisher


Old Haligonians in their hundreds came forward yesterday to pin down the location of the photo of, what I though was, Gaol Lane: it appears that it was, in fact, most likely the adjacent Ann Street. During the day I was sent several old maps of this particular part of Halifax, and the fascinating exercise was trying to fit the jumble of streets, buildings, and even mill ponds, into the area we know today. It's almost as though an entire bygone world can be compressed into what, effectively, is a Marks and Spencer Car Park.




The maps will be useful in trying to pin down where I went to next after leaving Ann Street. The next photograph on the strip of negatives, again features Halifax Town Hall, but this time as seen through the frame of a half demolished window. I have tried to make some sense of the lettering in the window above the doorway, and the best I can come up with is --SS / IN-SHERS (oh why didn't I move the camera slightly to the left?).  The letters could help to form "Brass Finishers" and I have studied the second map in detail trying to find such an establishment. There are mineral water manufacturers, rag warehouses, bolt stores, marine stores (!), and even a brass foundry, but there are no brass finishers I can find.

No doubt, before the day is through, someone will have pinned down the exact spot, but even if they can't, it doesn't matter. The hunt itself is just as enjoyable as the outcome.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Go To Gaol, Go Directly To Gaol


At some stage in the late 1960s, large sections of the bottom end of Halifax were demolished. These were the streets that ran from Market Street, down to the appropriately named Winding Road. They are etched into my youthful memory - longer, grander, greater than they undoubtedly were - but their names are largely lost to me. This is one such street. That is Halifax Town Hall in the background, and I have a feeling that it might by Gaol Lane, but I turn to my fellow Haligonians of a certain age for either confirmation or correction.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

1948


Given that it's my birthday, and given that I can't spend the day in the pub trying to ignore the onset of old age, I though I would revel in the passing of years by finding a photograph of myself from every year of my life. This will have to be a weekly project, so I will start with this one from 1948 which shows me having just come out of hospital. If I do a year every week, I should be up to date by the time that this lockdown is nearing an end!

Salt, Pepper And Hillside


I must have taken this photograph in the late 1960s or early 70s. The two Halifax cooling towers - affectionately known as Salt and Pepper - were demolished in 1974. The first attempt to blow them up was remarkably unsuccessful, and a giant wrecking ball had to be brought in to complete the job. Between the two towers you get a slice of the hillside leading up to Claremount. It appears that it costs almost twice as much to pull them down as it did to build them in the first place. There is some deep quasi-philosophical lesson in there, somewhere, but it's too early in the morning to find it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Station Steps

The last two negatives on this particular strip from the 1980s feature Halifax Railway Station.

I have always been fascinated by stone steps. The area around my home town of Halifax has an abundance of hills and stone, and therefore stone steps are as common as hop houses in Kent. This fine example is, I think, the steps leading down from the station approach road to the dark and dank passageway under the lines leading, eventually, to Navigation Road. 
When the train left the station, it would momentarily emerge into the light, take a deep breath, and then plunge into the tunnel under Beacon Hill. Only brave engines could manage the line north out of Halifax.


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Halifax Before Eureka 2


The second of two of my photographs from the 1980s showing that area of Halifax close to the Railway Station, which is now the home of Eureka! The National Children's Museum. When I took this photograph, the remnants of the old railway sidings were still in place. The street above the large stone wall is School Street, and the floodlights of the Shay can be seen in the distance. I must have taken this shot from the bridge that leads to the entrance of the station. A similar view now would be dominated by the Eureka building.


Monday, June 08, 2020

A Fine Image From Holywell Green


I acquired this old photograph a couple of weeks ago. It's a rather fine photograph of a large Edwardian family posing outside a terraced house. My interest in it was sparked in particular, by the address printed on the reverse - like so many photos of that era it was printed as a postcard - which was W. Sykes, Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green, Nr Halifax. 

The first decade of the twentieth century saw the coming together of two distinct fashions: amateur photography and postcard collecting. Camera technology had developed to such an extent that family groups and individuals could be photographed outside the confines of a professional studio. Photographic printing papers were manufactured with "postcard backs", with names and addresses stamped on them for use by keen amateurs. With the postcard collecting mania in full swing, there was a ready market for local views and family groups.

As far as I have been able to discover, W Sykes was not a professional photographer - indeed, I can find little trace of W Sykes of Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green anywhere. Brookroyd Terrace certainly did exist, close up against the side of the massive Brookroyd Mill, but both the mill and the terrace were demolished sometime in the last century. I did manage to track down a photograph of the terrace, and it does seem very similar to the houses in the background of this photograph.

Perhaps the photograph shows W Sykes and his extended family. Possibly, he worked at the adjacent mill and had an interest in photography. I don't know, but that doesn't really matter. The photograph is a fine image in its own right.

Halifax Before Eureka 1

This is the first of two photographs that explores that part of Halifax near the railway station before the building of the National Children's Museum (Eureka!) in 1992. I must have taken these two photographs in the 1980s, well before the building that now houses the museum was constructed. Geographical logic tells me that this photograph must have been taken from somewhere around Bath Street, although I am having difficulty getting the buildings to fit in with the modern view of the area. In the background you can clearly see the Mackintosh factory and behind that the unmistakeable Beacon Hill. 


Thursday, June 04, 2020

On Saving The Soul Of An Unknown Woman

Collecting old photographs of people you don't know and have no connection with is an odd way of passing the time. It ranks up there with lamp-post collecting and knot-tying - and a little behind old-time sequence dancing - as a legitimate way of keeping the mind active in old-age. There is, however, an element of salvation involved, of a type you might reasonably get as a missionary. Abandoned photographs have been abandoned - they are unwanted and unloved, they are monuments to people who are destined to be forgotten. By snatching that old and faded photograph from the jaws of the incinerator, you are helping to save, not the soul, but the image of a human being. And, given time and a reasonable amount of cask-conditioned real ale,  I could make a decent case for saying that, at the end of the day, the soul and the image are the same thing.

This is a scan of a tiny print - no more that an inch by an inch and a half - of a young woman stood on top of a hill. It dates, I suspect, from the 1920s. There is something determined in her look, something that demands not to be lost, not to be forgotten. I am sharing this image with the world and making it available for posterity. I am saving her image - and perhaps her soul.



High Rise Flats 6. Mill Chimneys 2

This is a photograph I took walking down Southowram Bank from Beacon Hill, Halifax. It is the last of the shots on this strip of negatives from sometime in the early 1970s. Despite the view having more high-rise flats than mill chimneys, there is still something very dated about this photograph. The trees hadn't come back in force at this time, and the stone terraces still outnumbered brick infills.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Archetypically Yorkshire


A Yorkshire stone wall. Dry. Designed by a craftsman, not a committee. Solid. Coated in soot from generations of hard industry. Formed from layer after layer of grit.


CSI Halifax


You sometimes see, on TV crime shows, how Crime Scene Investigators can predict where a bullet was fired from, by tracing back a straight line joining the victims body with where the bullet is lodged in the wall. Using the same predictive system on this photograph I must have taken in the mid 1970s - and substituting the Town Hall for the victim's head -  police are anxious to interview a young photographer who was stood on top of Beacon Hill, Halifax 45 years ago.


Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Moss


Lockdown cabin fever has progressed so far that last week I found myself scanning a biscuit (it was a McVitie's Rich Tea Finger if that is of any interest). After that, things can only get better - so here is a scan of a lump of moss pulled from a stone wall.


Scanning' At The Woodside


The latest scan from the trawl through my old 35mm negatives. Because of adjacent shots, I would date this at about 1971 or '72. A group of us had been to visit Banklfield Museum in Halifax, and afterwards I crossed the road to take this photograph. I think this is Woodside Terrace, in which case, it still exists, although the houses on the right hand side of the street have been replaced by new ones. The title of this post will probably only make sense to Count Basie fans!


Monday, June 01, 2020

Gladys

My mother, Gladys, on a motorbike in the 1930s. The pencilled caption on the back says it's my mother, and the photograph was taken in Lancaster. The album it comes from is one of my mothers. It looks like my mother. My software's facial recognition confirms it is my mother. But my mother, astride a powerful motorbike, young, without the cares of family: it is all so difficult to take in.


Stone Face, Huddersfield


All the walking in this Lockdown Spring sunshine takes us down roads, so familiar, we have long since stopped looking. And then we notice something we must have passed a hundred times, and we see it for the first time. In this case, it was a magnificent stone face on Netheroyd Hill Road in Huddersfield. 



Faded Pleasure


By the 1960s, all that was left of the once magnificent Sunny Vale Pleasure Gardens was a Go-Kart track, a rubbish-filled lake and a host of memories. There were two lakes - Victoria and Alexandra - and I am not sure which this one - I captured in this photo from the late 1960s - was.  I can just about remember going to the gardens in the late 1950s, and by then their glory was very much faded. It is hard to imagine that this forgotten little valley, hidden away behind Hipperholme Cross Roads, was once one of the premier northern leisure resorts of Edwardian England.

Harry Moore, Sammy Davis Junior, And Me

  I'm a great believer in pointlessness. To have the luxury of allowing your mind to wander down thought paths with the freedom and irre...