A classic Picture From Nowhere : I know not who, where or when. Three carefully posed men, three carefully composed faces. You can write their past or invent their future. All that is given is the moment.
Category Archives: Pictures From Nowhere
There is something very appealing about this old photograph which must date from the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. It is the look, which is pitched somewhere between haughty and flirtatious. There is a dedication in the bottom corner, but all that remains legible is the word “love”. The photograph comes from the Bingley studio of the photographer George Tillett.
This old picture is not exactly from nowhere, but from an album of photographs taken in India in the 1930s. What stories could be told by these nine men?
The album belonged to my wife’s Uncle Jim, who served in the British Army in India in the 1930s. As far as I can make out, however, Jim was not one of the nine men featured in the photograph. I am not sure when the photograph was taken, nor can I explain why at least two of the company look decidedly worse for wear. At their best, photographs can be objects in themselves, without the need for a backstory or a list of dramatic personae. This, I like to think, is one such photograph.
This rather stern looking lady was captured by the Heckmondwike studio of John S Shaw. John Shaw was born near Halifax in 1815, and for most of his working life was a farmer in Staffordshire. Only when he was in his sixties to he return to his native West Yorkshire to climb aboard the commercial band-wagon which was studio photography. The last two decades of the nineteenth century was the great age of the popular studio portrait. Production techniques meant that studio portraits were no longer the preserve of the wealthy, and the new age of home photography had not yet arrived. Every town and village needed its photographic studio, and a wide range of men – and a few notable women – were attracted into the profession. They were the computer repair shops, mobile phone case sellers, and Turkish barbers of their day. Unlike all such recent trends, however, they left a lasting legacy which still can be appreciated over one hundred years later.
Three photographs from an album of photos and postcards from India in the 1930s. They come from a family album which was put together by my wife’s uncle, Jim Carthew, and has been kindly lent to me by his granddaughter. I am slowly working my way through the album, scanning the photographs as I go. The three today must have been taken in that part of India or Afghanistan where Uncle Jim was stationed when he was a soldier in the 1930s. From the rather indistinct captions, the first one is a photograph of a tea server, the second is a dancing girl and the third is the local postman. More from the same album will undoubtedly follow.
Hidden away at the corner of a throw-away old photo is a haunting image that transcends time and place. The child looks on and, in turn, we look on, whilst the supposed subjects look at us.
Where I got this old photograph of the staff of the Manchester Hotel in Bournemouth at their Staff Ball on the 1st January 1921, I have no idea. But what a picture it is, what a story it has to tell.