My calendar today features a photograph from over ninety years ago of two girls posing in a seaside studio with a parasol. The photograph was taken in Cleethorpes on the stormy east coast of Britain, where parasols tended to be confined to the photographers’ studio. The date of the photograph I estimate as 1929 or there about. The young girl on the right of the picture, as we look at it, is my mother, Gladys. I remember her telling me about the photograph when, as a child, I would leaf through the photograph albums. Was the other girl called Florrie? – I forget. They were two young girls on a day trip to the seaside from their jobs in the woollen mills of Bradford. It was a lifetime ago – and, as I face the prospect of trudging through the snow today, it feels increasingly like two lifetimes ago. But after my trip out to walk the dog, I can come back into my slightly warmer office and look at that smile I remember so well.
Category Archives: Family Photographs
Sepia Saturday was established over eleven years ago, during the golden age of blogging, as a weekly exchange of blog posts based on, and around, old photographs. During the Great Days of Blogging it would attract up to one hundred contributions each week, but now it is the home of a small band of regular posters, who still enjoy the opportunity to share old images. Whilst our fascination for old photographs has not waned – look at the popularity of photo-sharing groups on platforms such as Facebook – our willingness to spend that little longer creating and responding in this cut-and-past era, may have. I recently asked the few remaining Sepia diehards whether it was time to roll up the shutters and consign our sepia contributions to the digital equivalent of an old tea chest; but I am pleased to say that they all thought that we should carry on. And so we do.
This week the Sepia theme image celebrates the letter T and an old tram has been chosen as a theme image. Nevertheless, I am giving the tram a miss, and rather spotlighting two other t’s : time and a tin bath. The photograph of a child being washed in a tin bath in front of an old kitchen range seems to belong to another era: but is part of my own contemporary history. The woman is my mother, Gladys, and the child is my brother Roger, and the photograph must have been taken in either 1943 or 1944. In some ways the image – and the way of life it represents – seems ancient; and yet it spans less than one generation. That small child in the tin bath, will be looking at this photograph later today from the warm seclusion of his Caribbean island home. That’s a long way to travel in a tin bath.
I was trying to explain to someone the other day why I have always steered clear of moving images. Ever since I first picked a camera up back in the sepia days of my youth, people have always seemed to see still images as a poor second-cousin to the magic of moving pictures. At first there was home cine film, and then video cameras; and I was able to explain my reluctance by pointing out that the equipment was bulky and the media was expensive. Once digital video via a smart phone button came on the scene, such excuses became as redundant as a director’s clapperboard. However, despite protestations that wanted a record of little Holroyd running on the sands swinging his bucket and spade, I stood firm and my pictures stood still. It is difficult to rationally explain, but there is something about the way a still image focusses attention on a specific moment, and invites you almost to become an active participant in a scene rather than a passive viewer. Faced with an old film which included two men sat on a rock near the seaside, you would perhaps give them a passing glance – it would be the most you would be able to afford in a world where images were coming at you 24 frames per second. Given a still image, however, you can invest time and attention. You can explore the background, examine their clothes, note the cigarettes, wonder what they might be drinking. You learn to live with a particular moment – a questioning look, a carefree smile – and it becomes more than just a moment in time. In this particular case, I know that the sitting man on the left of the photograph was my father, and it must have been taken in the 1930s. The photograph appears on my daily calendar, and therefore I have him for a full day whilst I sit at my desk. We can sit, chat, and this evening share a drink. Try doing that with an old VHS cassette.
Sometime, all you need is a shape. Detail is superfluous when outlines tell a story. This is my mother, Gladys, fifty-five years ago. I probably mis-judged the back-lighting, but I like to think that I was concerned only with capturing a shape.
This is one of a batch of old photographs which was sent to me through the post. There was no indication as to who sent them, but the envelope also contained the funeral programme of one of my wife’s cousins. I can only assume that the two children featured in this particular photograph are members of that extended family. Written on the back of the photograph is the single word: “unknown”.
I can only express my thanks to whoever sent these photographs: the fact that the subject is unknown is of no consequence. The photograph is superb.
Before digital time stamps were invented, you had to rely on more indirect means to date photographs. Thanks to a newspaper headline about the launch of the Serious Fraud Office, I can confidently say that this photograph of me was taken in April 1988. I seem rather relaxed, sat in one of my parent’s over-floral chairs, pipe in mouth, FT in hand, and, no doubt, my mother busy making me a mug of tea in the kitchen. This was eighteen months before the birth of Alexander: my hair has yet to turn grey and the biggest problem seems to be the state of the British economy. I was forty years old, living in Sheffield, working in Doncaster. Although my hearing had started to decline, I could still manage with a hearing aid (it will have been in my, hidden, right ear). The photograph was taken in Oaklands Avenue, Northowram – the house I grew up in. At some stage, I had captioned this image: “AB with FT” – it seems quite appropriate.
A determination to catch the last of the late summer sun took me to Brighouse Canal Basin yesterday, and a determination to scan my way through all my old photographs also took me to the same place – albeit fifty-three years earlier.
The canal basin was looking glorious in the sunshine. A few late flowers added to the colour provided by the moored barges, whilst the leaves on the trees were taking their cue from the stone-browns of the old mills and warehouses. Old fools such as me, spend too much of our lives complaining about all that has been lost, without acknowledging the positive aspects of planning and architectural developments over the last half century. The Brighouse Basin of my youth was a sad and forgotten place, as lacking in colour as the monochrome prints of it that survive.
By chance, one such print worked its way to the top of my scanning pile yesterday. I think the photograph was taken in the basin, and I think I was the photographer, and I suspect that it may have been sometime around 1967. My brother – who is pictured along with my father woking on the conversion to his boat Brookfoot – will no doubt read this post on his far-off Caribbean island and correct me on the dates and locations as necessary. He won’t be able to correct the description because it is written on the back of the print in his own hand, and it reads as follows: “Fixing the longitudinal members in position with “Gripfast”. My father is also shown in this photograph lending a hand“. It seems that the photograph may have been submitted for publication as part of an article my brother was writing on his conversion of the old Yorkshire Keel barge. If that was the case, and if it was my photograph, I am obviously due some royalties, even after this lengthy period of time. You know where to send the money to, Roger!
Once you become addicted to colourising your old family photographs it is difficult to know when to stop. Here are a selection of my old family photographs that have been through the colourising machine this week.
One of my favourite photographs of the Liverpool Usher sisters. The one on the right is my late mother-in-law, Edith; as for the rest, perm any three from five – Winnie, Ruth, Ada, Rhoda, or Mary. The photograph dates from the mid to late 1930s.
My Uncle John (Burnett) and his second wife, Doris. This is a fairly standard “seaside snap” and will have probably been taken at one of the Yorkshire seaside towns (possibly Bridlington, more likely, Scarborough). The date will be the early 1950s.
My grandmother, Harriet Ellen Burnett, standing at the door of her house at 11, Arctic Parade, Great Horton, Bradford. This photograph must have been taken in the late 1930s or early 1940s, when she would have been in her late 60s. I can just about remember her, when she was in her 80s – a little old lady sat in the corner of the room.
These days, cars can drive themselves down motorways, computers can land aeroplanes, and algorithms can determine future accademic success…. and nifty little smartphone apps can add colour to your dead grandmothers’ face. The technology is there, but should we use it just because it is available? I must confess, I can’t decide: in some ways it is nice to see my grandmother Kate Beanland with a bit of colour in her cheeks, but maybe by adding colour we subtract history.