Sunday, 24 April 2011

Changing Face of Photography and Society.

Looking at the older images at the London Street Photography reminded me that I have some scans of old family photographs dating back to the early 1900's. My family were not well off so I am amazed that we have as many as we do. My Mum's cousin allowed me to borrow and scan her album. Sadly my scanner has seen better days.When I get around to it and finances allow I shall invest in a new one. Some of the images at the Museum of London struck a chord with the photographs I have stored so I thought I'd look at them again in a different light. After writing this post I received an email from about dating and understanding our old family photographs which was interesting to read so am adding it here too...Family photos | findmypast blog

Studying them chronologically you can see how technological advances allowed for the staid "sit still and don't move" poses to the freedom to be out of the studio and eventually walking around quite freely. Snaps came into being, informal grab shots of days out not just formal occasions. I love these images for the historical value as well as the personal. Family shots can inform and inspire as much as formal, professional exhibitions.From the streets of London | Photography | Agenda | Phaidon

Great Aunt Kate Brown

This is the oldest photo I have. It was taken in Camberwell in the very early 1900's maybe about 1903. The young girl at the gate is my Great Aunt Kate born in 1897 and I'm guessing she is about 5? The ladies in the doorway are my great grandmother and great great grandmother. My Great great grandfather, known as Farby, is standing with Kate. Aunt Kate featured heavily in my childhood and died in 1991. The first mass-marketed camera , the Brownie was produced in 1900. For me this image has many similarities to the photographs taken by John Galt of the poorer areas of London and Paul Martin's shots around London streets.
Photograph by John Galt Assembling Match Boxes at Home.
Egbert Brown  holding Dolly
Great Uncle Egbert and Dolly

No idea when these two images of Egbert were taken. My Great Uncle Egbert was a cartman who delivered coal. The cart and horse (who I know was called Dolly) were decorated  for a festival of some kind. Egbert was born in 1905 and died fairly young in 1941. Again I noted the similarities with John Galt's Cat's Meat Man and the images of Paul Martin.

John Galt Cat's Meat Man c1901
Going forward in time slightly the next two images are of a family wedding. Albert Ponder (the groom) was my great grandmother's half brother, although we believe that she had no idea that she was illegitimate...skeletons appear when you trace your family tree! Albert Ponder married in 1918 and this is a formal studio shot complete with faux backdrop. From roughly 1860 to 1920 painted photography backdrops were a standard feature of early photography studios. Generally of rustic or quasi-classical design, but sometimes presenting a bourgeoise trompe-l'œil  they eventually fell out of fashion with the advent of the Brownie and Kodak cameras which brought photography to the masses.

Albert Ponder and Louise Ponder nee Willis September 1918
The family group taken in a back garden. The gentleman in the huge flat cap is my great grandfather also an Egbert Brown. The fashions of the day are amazing and the soldiers uniform helps date the image. Wedding dresses didn't fall to the ground completely and these images have a value in fashion history as well as photographic.

Ponder/Brown family and friends 1918
I found it difficult to find any 1918 professional "famous" photographers to compare these images with, but came across many other personal images that had been uploaded, however interestingly found a Kodak advert from 1918 with just as fetching head gear! Those poor children.....

This website made for interesting viewing Vintage Photography/ Camera Ads of the 1920s (Page 8)

My other Great Great Grandparents Attley and Florence Ponder
Attley and Florence Ponder emigrated to Canada and this was one of the images they "sent home". Though some things don't alter and recently my daughter did a photoshoot at DoubleTake studios in Manchester, complete with flock wallpaper and piano ;o)

Close up of Great grandfather Egbert Brown in 1918 am so loving the cap....
The hat, the suit, the 'tash.....the image below was on display at the exhibition, would seem that male fashion didn't alter that much in 10 years...

Anonymous, Passer-by walking along Sutton High Street (c1930) London,UK
Observing the Street 1930-1945

Another back garden shot. This one before a working mans day out. My great great grandfather was a coal man so this probably was the only suit he owned which came out for "best". Presumably the same goes for the others in this photograph.
Working Mans Club Day Trip
The Gentleman on the very end of the back row on the righthand side is Egbert Brown Senior (yes there were generations of them) would hazard a guess at c1920's or very early 30's as Egbert died in 1937. Below, artist unknown, is an image of a working mans day out from Durham c1920.

Durham City, Crossgate, Working Men's Club outing
Durham Working Man's Club c1920
Another studio shot, this of my great great grandparents was probably taken mid 1920's as Augusta died in 1928. Note the pretend sea-side backdrop to match the deckchairs. Unfortunately I have no idea who the other 2 in the image are. Portraits are still very formal as the next set of images will show.

Egbert and Augusta Brown

Frances Brown with Albert Brown c1920
Am guessing c1920 as Albert was born in 1917 and he looks about 3 years of age. Oh dear what DID they dress young boys in to be photographed? I take it he looks unhappy as he had to wear that outfit and then stand still for a long period ;o)

The Ponders in 1921

My Grandparents George and Augusta's wedding in 1925. George (known as Tom) and Ernie Hunt,were brothers and married sisters Augusta and Annie Brown although 10 years apart; Annie was 7 years younger.

George Hunt and Augusta Hunt nee Brown 1925

Formal Brown family group c1925

Ann Brown
Kate Brown - My Great Aunt Kate.

Although studio portraiture remained formal, family snaps started to be taken as this snapshot of my Great Aunt Ann and Great Uncle Albert show. Albert as I say, was born in 1917. Guessing he is about 10ish here puts this to be about 1927. Fully clothed on the beach......

Popular in the 1910s and 1920s was the postcard-format photograph, distinguishable from the private snapshot by an order number; good examples of this for comparison, are the three images below. The first of my Great Uncle Fred and then girlfriend Flossie (who later became his wife) and Great Aunt Ann with Ernie.The second, an informal shot taken about the same time if not on the same day and the third, of my Great Aunt Ann with Great Uncle Ernie walking along the seafront with a friend. I think this final image maybe toward the 1930's though I maybe wrong. However Ann looks older than the first shot and her clothes reflect this. These images show how camera technology had moved on as people could be captured walking with no motion blur. The depth of field shows there is also a certain degree of aperture control. I find myself more and more drawn to looking at the backgrounds of these pictures, due to the positioning and attitude of the onlookers in the background I am led to believe that is is more a set up shot.


Ernie, Fred and Albert
What I noticed with this one is the suntan line on Albert's thighs indicating he always wore shorts.

Below another postcard shot in the early 1930's. This time of my grandmother (Augusta Brown) and her son (my Uncle Tom born in 1926) with Great Aunt Kate . Once again you can see the order number which indicates this was taken by a beach photographer. You don't find too many of those about now :o) It is also interesting to note the tones of black and white and sepia in these older images.

Nanny, Aunt Kate and Uncle Tom

Cyril Arapoff was taking photographs of London during the 1930's and I can see the cheeky faces and fashions of the time in his images echoed in my family album.

Cyril Arapoff Children in a London Street.

Fred and Flossie's wedding 1933

Looking at my Aunt Ann's outfit you could have plonked her down in the 1970's and she wouldn't have looked out of place!

Ann and Ernie's wedding 1935

They were so cruel to bridesmaids! Another family group taken in the garden. Looking back and comparing wedding photo the format has remained the same for a very long time, only recently has the photobook and more a informal, contemporary style started to creep in. I wonder what William and Kate's informal album will be like (I doubt if we will get to see that one) And call me old-fashioned but I don't like the boudoir packages that some photographers offer. I chose this site at random....sure has moved on from my ancestors day. Denise Winter Wedding Photographer Surrey

Gradually colour photography started to be introduced but prior to this some images were hand-tinted. Hand-tinting wasn't new and Daguerreotype's were coloured pre 1900. Hand tinting was most popular from the 1900's to the 1940's. In the 1950's colour film became more readily available. This picture is of my granddad's half sister Lilian which I estimate to be about 1943.

Lilian Lowe

Obviously my parent's photo album's and later my own then reflect what was being taken during the 1950's, 60's and to date. The sizes, shapes and colours vary so much.

Grandmother Lou Firmin holding Aunty Pat c1941

Roger Mayne's images of London Teddy Boy's c1956 reminded me of my Dad and uncles when they were younger.

Ernie Firmin (on the left) 1950's with a friend
 The slicked back hair of my Dad, Uncle's and their friends showing the teddy boy influence of the late 50's and my Dad's uniform is indicative that conscription still existed; he served during the Korean War.

Uncle Albie Firmin and my Dad in uniform in the centre of the group 1950's

Uncles Jim and Dave c1956

Grandmother Lou Firmin in Greenwich Park 1950's
Ordinary everyday trips could be captured with candid and informal shots.

As a child I used my mum's old box camera complete with wind up film and upside down viewer. I was the laughing stock of the kids at school with their small compact Instamatic's, but I loved it. I owned a disc camera, a Pentax, a Pentax SLR (until divorce and it went with him) a small Olympus digital camera before going the Canon DSLR route. 

I've seen styles come and go, attitudes towards photography change, as a hobby as well as the public attitude towards being photographed, and have always found it fascinating. Maybe that is why I am here doing this today :o) Some people complain about the sloppiness of camera phones and the ease of which images can be uploaded online to flickr and facebook. Personally I love it. It means I can see what my kids get up to (in an interested way) With my daughter being away at Uni I get to see her friends, the fun she has. Her generation's memories will be catalogued in a way that no other has been. Tagging will help you get over the problem of asking "now who WAS that!" As long as facebook still exists or the images are backed up somehow for future viewing, along with all notes relating to them. Even the rubbish, blurry, random things that get posted show a way of life, how students work rest and play and the accessibility of the medium. Not sure how it will continue to evolve but it shall, and I am glad to be part of that evolution even if my images will amount to nothing more than generations ahead saying "OMG they wore THOSE?".

Looking at these older prints I am even more convinced that there is no other way to appreciate photographs other than their printed physical form, seeing the parallels of my own personal collection to those on display has reminded me that sometimes you don't need to look so far or so hard for ideas, inspirations and historical references. I refuse to consider my childhood photos as "historical" though no doubt they are...I just don't want to think I'm that old!

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