Wednesday, 7 December 2016

61 : A New Life In The Digital Age


I am not sure who took this photograph - it was part of a job lot of old, unwanted photographs bought for a few pence off the Internet. I am pleased to be able to give it a new life in the digital age - the image is far too good to be thrown away.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

60 : The Businessman, The Thinker, The Starlet And The Contented One

This is an old, found photograph of four unknown children. It was tiny, faded, folded and scratched, but even in that state, four very different personalities leapt off the photographic paper. On the left is the confident businessman, the one who knows just what the world has to offer and doesn't question his ability to take it. Next comes the thinker, who wonders what the catch might be. Then the starlet who is always looking elsewhere for the big opportunity. And finally, the contented one, who laughs at it all.

Monday, 5 December 2016

59 : Many A Stonking Six

UNKNOWN MAN : 1612-103
There is something sporting about this chap. You can tell from his face and from the extravagant width of his shirt collar. This is no tap-room Larry or collector of stamps of the Empire. Those eyes were made to watch a ball moving down the wicket and that confident smile predicts many a stocking six.

Friday, 2 December 2016

58 : Everytown - To Be Sold

I suppose this could be any British town or city. There is the required statue of some dead monarch safely ensconced behind a wrought iron fence. Add buses and shops, pigeons and men in hats, and what you get is Everytown. Which, it would appear, is to be sold.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

57 : The Vibrations Of Life Itself

This is a wonderful photograph. It is so busy. Things are going on all over the place, in every direction, at every level. Look at it and you can here the sounds and smell the smells. You can feel the vibrations of life itself.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

56 : The Confidence Of The Posh

Posh folk have such confidence. The hands comfortably in the pockets. The one-footed, cane-supported stance. The hands very firmly on the purse.

Monday, 28 November 2016

55 : Come In Number 25, Your Time Has Come

Unknown Man and Child In Boat : 1611B-86

A fabulous captured moment - who, when and where don't really matter. Over the years you can almost hear the chugging of the motor. You can almost feel the pride of the grandfather.

Friday, 18 November 2016

54 : Welcome Home

The fall-out from an intensive bout of room-tidying was this scrap of an old photograph that was stuck down behind an old plastic box. I have no idea who the child is or where he comes from. But he has been patiently waiting to be found for who knows how long. Wherever your home was, my room is now your home. Welcome home.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

53 : A Message To The People Of Hermiston by Currie

Pencilled on the back of this old print is the following:  
"Miss Elize Carauthers, Hermiston by Currie, Scotland,
Mrs Owens, Hermiston by Currie, Scotland"
If Miss Carauthers or Mrs Owen would like to contact me, I will let them have the photo back.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

52 : Three Men In A Car

Three men in a car. And what a car. A real car. Heavy on metal and rubber. A horn that would put the fear of God in any passing pedestrian. 

(Three Unknown Men In A Car - Scanned Third Party Print : Rajar Collection)

Monday, 14 November 2016

51 : Ethel Will Know What I Mean

Ethel will know what I mean. I feel a new camera coming on. It's a feeling other picture-taking addicts will recognise. The belief that a shiny new piece of kit will somehow transform your dull prints  into chromatic works of art. The idea that a few more pixels and less modest focal length will turn you into a Bill Brandt or a Henri Cartier-Bresson. Whether it is glass plate, roll film or SD card, that feeling is something all photographers will recognise. Ethel will know what I mean.

(Picture of Ethel Johnston - Scan of a 3"x2" print, Rajar Purchase)

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Tell The Truth Nora

This is a scan of a tiny one and a half inch print which comes from deep within the "Unknown" box. But we do know a little about the subject of the photograph. On the reverse is written: "Taken at Ballycastle specially for you (liar). Love from Nora" Oh Nora, I can't believe you would lie - honesty is printed on your face. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Fading Back Into Time

This is a scan of a negative which was acquired from the depths of an on-line auction site. The wonders of modern digital techniques allow us to scan such treasures, repair them, remove the scratches and dust spots, and sprinkle them with newness. 

They retain an objective patina - the car, the clothes all speak of an age now gone - but the crisp monochrome doesn't quite fit. If it had been a print rather than a negative, it would have acquired a sepia coating that would have been as effective as a date stamp. But negatives tend not to fade in the same way; and therefore the digital tools that cleaned the negative up have to be brought into use again, to fade the print back into its' proper time.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A Fine Horse - A Heap Of A Fine Horse?

I like to think that this photograph was taken by Thomas Heap of Sowerby. Admittedly, it doesn't have his name on, but Thomas did advertise himself as a "portrait, landscape and equestrian photographer", and here we have a portrait of a man, set in a landscape (limited as it may be) and undoubtedly an equestrian horse. And the photograph was bought from the same stall as the one of the unknown man that clearly has his name attached to it. Whoever took the photograph and whoever the man may be - the one thing that is certain is that it is a fine horse.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Riding The Technological Rip-Tide In A One Horse Town

Over the years, I have known a good number of people who came from Sowerby and they all shared a similar physical trait. There was a certain bluntness about their features, almost as though the natural lines of their bodies had been evened out by the relentless work of the wind and the rain blowing down from the moors. I can well believe that this chap lived in Sowerby - he has the look.

Whilst the subject of these old Carte de Visite's is always fascinating, I must confess that I am first drawn to the photographers themselves - in this case Thomas Heap of Sowerby. To understand Victorian photographers you have to understand the technological transformation which turned a pseudo-scientific experiment into a popular mass market in a few short decades. 

Most Victorian photographers were not born into the business and many were not even trained in the business. They rode a technological rip-tide, seizing the opportunities presented by a rapidly emerging mass market that meant every town and city, every large village and crowded settlement, had the need of a photographic studio.

Thomas Heap was a perfect example. He was born in the nearby village of Warley in 1847, the son of a "cloth fuller". As was so often the case, that is the trade he followed his father and grandfather into, and in the 1871 and 1881 census, he is shown as working in the textile industry. By 1891 he has undergone a transformation, the hands that had previously filled and raised cloth were now soaked in developer and fixer: he had opened a photographic studio in Sowerby.

He later advertised himself as a "Portrait, Landscape and Equestrian Photographer" - just in case any of the blunt farmers of Sowerby wanted their carthorses immortalising in silver bromide salts.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Lifetime Waiting To Be Lived

1609B-10 : Unknown School Photograph   

This is a scan of an old half-plate glass negative of an unknown group of school children and their teachers. Such groups are a double treasure: you have the historical record of the class and you have endless individual faces to explore. Each expression is a delight, each face is a lifetime waiting to be lived.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Precocious Camera Of John Arthur Wilkinson

1609B01 : Unknown Man, Wilkinson's of Batley

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The only identifiable thing with this Carte de Visite is the photographers stamp on the reverse. I often think there should be a comprehensive database of Victorian photographers, but there isn't and therefore some digging is required. In the 1881 census, John Arthur Wilkinson, aged 16, is listed as an "artist and portrait painter" living at 93 Dark Lane, Batley. This precocious young chap was living with his parents Israel and Martha Wilkinson (Israel was listed as a "factory engine smith"). By 1891, John had left home (if truth be told, he had moved next door), got married, and re-branded himself as a Photographer. By 1901 he had left the wonderfully descriptive "Dark Lane" behind him and moved a few streets away. We can therefore assume that this photograph of an unknown man dates from the mid 1880s, when John Arthur was still a young man. Is it too much of a speculation to wonder whether this could actually be a portrait of John Arthur himself?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Thought-Over, Bought-Over, Stitched And Saved

There must have been such an investment in clothes back in those days. These aren't insubstantial things, bought from the local supermarket and thrown away once their fashion had passed. They were thought-over, bought-over, stitched and saved. Layer on layer of satin, braided blazers and boots that needed a lifetime of shining.
(Unknown Family : Walkers Studio, Wood Street, Wakefield. Late 19th Century)

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Mystery Of The Wooden Contraption And The Final E


This old photograph has "Mr Savill, my grandfather" written on the back. I have spent some time trying to work out what Mr Savill's occupation was: the step ladder is fairly self-explanatory, but what is the wooden contraption in his right hand? And surely his name must have been Saville - what happened to the final "e"?

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Straight From The Dog's Mouth


This is a partial scan of a tiny print - less than an inch square - that fell on the floor as I was moving some old prints bought off eBay from one box to another. It was so small I hardly noticed it, but Lucy my dog did .... and started to eat it. Deciding that it didn't taste all that good, she spit it out and I rescued it, wiped it down and scanned it. That is some journey to undertake in an old car. No wonder this guy looks pleased with himself.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Man With The Nonchalant Smile

1609A1 : Caldene Purchase

There is such a splendid nonchalance about the man at the centre of this little party. It is in his stance, in his smile, in the confident way his arms gather the girls in. Whilst the girl on his left looks content with the situation, the one on his right is dubious at best.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Think Jacksons, Think Osmonds, Think Parsons!

Madame Parsons was Eleanor Parsons from Burnley and her "seven lucky Lancashire lasses" were, in fact, her real daughters - Marguerite, Georgina, Mary, Louisa, Alice and Wilhelmina. There were a couple of sons as well (George and Charles) and a husband and at times they would tour as "the Parsons Family" (think Jacksons, think Osmonds, think Parsons!) I suspect this photograph - which sat in the "cheap stack" at a second-hand shop - dates from the First World War when the father was styled as "Sgt Parsons of the Army Ordinance Corps" was not part of the troupe.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Ventriloquist Of Cloth Hall Street


The child looks like a ventriloquist's dummy, perched on the arm of her father. More likely, the girl was actually attached to the table with a clamp in order to maintain the necessary stillness the slow shutter requires.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Did They Think?


Did they think all those years ago when they stood, prop-proud, in front of the camera? Did they think that the image of that day would last into a far off century? Those smiles, those frowns, those hopes, those fears! Did they imagine that years into the future they could all be bought for fifty pence in a second-hand shop?

Thursday, 25 August 2016

A Home-Made Victorian Beauty


This is a scan from a whole plate glass negative. Having bought the negative on eBay, the glass got broken in transit through the post but I didn't have the heart to send it back so I stitched it back together digitally. I suspect it is a "home-made" shot rather than a studio shot - that backdrop has the look of the kind of bedspread I would use as a backdrop to my own portraits seventy years after this will have been taken

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A Perkins Engine And Two Pounds Of Hornimans Tea

Dear Joan,

This is a photograph of mother and I which George took when we went on a omnibus outing from Almiria. it was such a hot day but mother insisted on wearing her big woolen coat - you know what she is like! Some of the hills were so steep I feared the 'bus would not be able to climb them, but George said that it had a Perkins engine (whatever that means!) and it could climb any hill so long as it took it slowly.

We are here for another week before going north and then slowly making our way home. I can't wait to see you again to catch up with all the gossip!

How is Phyllis? I got a letter from her last week but she said nothing about Edward and I don't like asking her direct just in case he has gone and done it again. You know what I mean!!

Mother sends her regards and asks whether you could order her two pounds of Hornimans Tea for when she returns.

Love from


Monday, 22 August 2016

From Victorian Couples To Mining Disasters : The Work Of Warner Gothard

This rather splendid Cabinet Card was produced at the studio of Warner Gothard in Northgate, Dewsbury. Based in nearby Barnsley, Gothard built up a substantial photographic business in Yorkshire and the reverse of the card indicates that he had produced photographs for the Royal family. By the beginning of the twentieth century the firm was producing picture postcards and they specialised in the production of montage views of events such as railway disasters and mining accidents. It is a little unclear who the J. Garratt whose name appears on the foot of the reverse of the photo was - it may be that he was working out of the Dewsbury studio of Warner Gothard.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Greetings To Absent Members

UNKNOWN GROUP PHOTOGRAPH (Early Twentieth Century)

Whenever I acquire a group photograph of unknown origin I try to work out what united the group being photographed. It might be the same place of work, the same school or college, or a shared membership of a club. In this case it looks as though it might be the latter - greetings are being sent to absent members.

The next thing I do is to focus down on the faces. What stories are there? What pasts and what futures?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Take A Look At Gertie

Take a look at this Carte de Visite bought this week in a second hand shop for 50p. Take a look at this woman, photographed by the Wellingborough photographer Alfred Watts in 1904. Take a look at that pince-nez, held at a slightly jaunty angle to echo the slightly jaunty smile that plays on her lips. Take a look at the lace. Take a look at the face. Scribbled on the back of the photo is her name - Gertie. How could it be anything else? Take a look at Gertie.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Joy Behind Lock And Key

Unknown Family Group : Howe & Hooley, Heaton Park  (1608B4)

The family is grouped around the Victorian patriarch and matriarch. If there was carefree joy in this family it will have been kept behind lock and key in a tantalus.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

144 Year Old Bit Of Card And Paper

CdV UNKNOWN MAN (April 1862) - (1607B58)

A Carte de Visite of an unknown man in a studio setting. The card is quite plain and unmarked on the reverse which points to an early date. Indeed a date is hand-written on the reverse - April 1862. That means this little bit of card and photographic paper is 144 year old!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Clue Is In The Clipping


Over the years I have become quite proficient in dating photographs from clothing and hairstyles. Looking at this unknown little snap, I would have guessed the late twenties or early thirties. But Lucy (our Labradoodle) who is a bit of an expert on dog styles, tells me it is the 1940s. Who am I to argue?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Red Spotted Knickers


I had to look at this photograph for some time before I realised what was going on. And then I remembered "spot prizes": dances back in those days of mock-innocence when the bandleader would interrupt the foxtrot to announce some curious object and the first person to rush up with it got a spot prize. Here he has obviously just called out something like "a ten shilling note" or "a small tooth comb". I seem to remember being at a dance once where they called out "a pair of red knickers". But perhaps that is merely the sad dreams of an old man.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Family Soap Opera

Unknown Family Group - Dated 9 July 1950 (1607B29)

The only thing I know about this photograph is the date stamp on the reverse which says that it was taken on the 9th July 1950. As it happens, that was the day that it was announced that soap would no longer be rationed in the UK. Now there is an event worthy of a family party!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Girl With A Face Of Her Own

Studio Portrait - Unknown Woman, Whiteley's Studio, Great Horton Road, Bradford

What strikes you about this lady is her hair which seems to have a mind of its own. Her face somehow matches her hair. She has a face of her own.

120 : Grandfather And Child

Grandfather And Child : Unknown Subject (Dated 1932)