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.
Category Archives: Pictures From Nowhere
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.
Photo trouvée : noun – an image found by an artist and displayed with no, or minimal, alteration as a work of art.
I’m no artist, but I could put together a pretty good case to suggest that this is a work of art. In the best traditions of “objet trouvée“, I found it amongst a pile of old and forgotten photographs. I know not when or where it was taken, or who it features; but it drips with meaning, and is infused with art.
Smiles – smiles on photos, at least – were a twentieth century invention: smiles on the faces of the subjects of Victorian photographic portraits are as rare as Trumpian truths. The reason was partly that Victorian cameras could only cope with fixed expressions – but it was also partly that they tended to be a miserable lot. By the 1920s and 1930s, people were more relaxed, and smiles began to appear, and this added a welcome layer of humanity to photographs. Once you achieved the technological ability to instantly see – and digitally enhance – your photographic image, things started to become unreal again, with blemishes banished and pouts propelled to prominence. For a few decades, however, photographic smiles reflected something like real joy and honest emotion. It was the age of the smile.
A photograph of unknown origins, subject and date – a true “Picture From Nowhere“. Two men in suits, just the hint of a bottle, a radio of certain antiquity, and a map of Latvia pinned to the wall. What in earth is the back story?
I am not sure where this little print came from – no doubt it was part of some job lot of old photographs I bought. It shows the crowded deck of a boat, and must have been taken at some point in the 1920s. It could be a ferry, but the people seem a little too well-dressed to be crossing the Mersey, or even the Solent. The other possibility is that it was taken on a cruise ship. Cruising isn’t just a modern phenomenon: cruises to Europe and even more exotic locations, were popular during the 1920s (last year I published a little book – “Heading North” – based on a collection of photographs taken on a 1925 cruise to Scandinavia).
It would be too much of a coincidence for this photograph to come from the same cruise as the one featured in my book, but as I focus on the individual faces, I see the same styles, the same features, the same times.
That has always been one of the real delights of collecting unknown, old photographs: cruising through the faces, looking for stories. Is the man looking over his shoulder to the past? Is the young woman with the long hair seeing the future? We can only imagine.