This is quite an unusual shot for a variety of reasons. Let’s forget for a moment who these four people are, and where they were: both are unknown and not massively important in the great scheme of things – especially to the lover of old lost and found photographs. We do have, however, quite a striking image that has been taken through an open window. The four subjects are outside on an open balcony whilst the photographer is inside …. or are they? There is something about the lady in the front and centre of the group that makes me wonder whether she, herself, is the photographer. When you take someone’s photograph – and they are aware of it – there is always an element of the captive visible in the facial expression of the subjects. They have been photographed, a process that has been controlled by someone else. You can see it in three of the faces here, a certain subjugation, a look that quickly reminds you why some people see photography as robbery of the soul. That look is completely absent from the fourth face: she radiates control: if souls are to be collected, then she is doing the collecting. Could the secret of her powers be found in whatever she is holding in her hands? It looks like a piece of optical equipment, could it be some form of remote control device to fire the camera shutter? Perhaps the camera had been set up inside on a tripod, and the group had gone onto the balcony for a photograph taking using a remote shutter release. Get ready, she says, smile, watch the birdie!
Category Archives: Pictures From Nowhere
The attraction of old photographs of unknown people is the very fact that they are unknown: sepia coloured blank canvases upon which we can paint whatever story we like. This young Edwardian man could be anyone’s Grandfather or Great Uncle ….. or he could be a Great War poet mentally penning his ode to Armageddon. He could be a clerk or a teacher, a grocer or an engineer: that serious look of concentration would be a credit to any trade or profession. By now, he is long gone, but we remember him here. Think of this as the tomb of the unknown civilian.
This is a joyous photo. I have no idea who the people are, but they are striding away from the Marine Bathing Pavilion in Margate. At a guess, we are in the late 1920s, although, again, I can’t be sure about that. What we can be certain about, however, is that they are having a great time.
Three girls on a pebbly beach. Whoever took this photograph captured a classic image without knowing about it.It became a small print, destined to fade into sepia age, pasted in an album, gradually forgotten and then left to make up the numbers in a job lot of old photos.
Probably the 1940s, just possibly the early fifties. Definitely a world still dominated by the war. Clothes that could illustrate a textbook: of fashion or history or both.
We can’t do smiles like we used to. Despite our endless ability to preen ourselves in front of app-laden mirror lenses, we could never match the enigma-rich smiles of this unknown trio, captured on a Bristol Channel paddle steamer in the 1920s.
The classic British seaside: sands, sea, boats and buckets. It doesn’t matter where it is or when it is. It can be a precious day snatched from the steam-filled clutches of a Victorian mill, or an escape from a Corona-driven lockdown. I have photographs of my Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam sat on a beach during World War II watching bombers fly overhead. If the sun is even hinting at the possibility of coming out, then we British will head for the nearest coastline. We are lucky; for most of us they are far enough away to be a change, but near enough not to be a challenge.
This is an old print from a cast-aside album. The photographer may have wanted to capture his (or her) Auntie Vi or little Ernest. What they actually captured was a small work of art, and the very essence of the classic British seaside.
Happier days, when social distancing was all about getting your deck chair as near as possible to your loved ones. Times when faces weren’t covered, but head were. Eras when a tracking app was nothing more than a core left on a railway line.
I acquired this old photograph a couple of weeks ago. It’s a rather fine photograph of a large Edwardian family posing outside a terraced house. My interest in it was sparked in particular, by the address printed on the reverse – like so many photos of that era it was printed as a postcard – which was W. Sykes, Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green, Nr Halifax.
The first decade of the twentieth century saw the coming together of two distinct fashions: amateur photography and postcard collecting. Camera technology had developed to such an extent that family groups and individuals could be photographed outside the confines of a professional studio. Photographic printing papers were manufactured with “postcard backs”, with names and addresses stamped on them for use by keen amateurs. With the postcard collecting mania in full swing, there was a ready market for local views and family groups.
As far as I have been able to discover, W Sykes was not a professional photographer – indeed, I can find little trace of W Sykes of Brookroyd Terrace, Holywell Green anywhere. Brookroyd Terrace certainly did exist, close up against the side of the massive Brookroyd Mill, but both the mill and the terrace were demolished sometime in the last century. I did manage to track down a photograph of the terrace, and it does seem very similar to the houses in the background of this photograph.
Perhaps the photograph shows W Sykes and his extended family. Possibly, he worked at the adjacent mill and had an interest in photography. I don’t know, but that doesn’t really matter. The photograph is a fine image in its own right.
Collecting old photographs of people you don’t know and have no connection with, is an odd way of passing the time. It ranks up there with lamp-post collecting and knot-tying – and a little behind old-time sequence dancing – as a legitimate way of keeping the mind active in old-age. There is, however, an element of salvation involved, of a type you might reasonably get as a missionary. Abandoned photographs have been abandoned – they are unwanted and unloved, they are monuments to people who are destined to be forgotten. By snatching that old and faded photograph from the jaws of the incinerator, you are helping to save, not the soul, but the image of a human being. And, given time and a reasonable amount of cask-conditioned real ale, I could make a decent case for saying that, at the end of the day, the soul and the image are the same thing.
This is a scan of a tiny print – no more that an inch by an inch and a half – of a young woman stood on top of a hill. It dates, I suspect, from the 1920s. There is something determined in her look, something that demands not to be lost, not to be forgotten. I am sharing this image with the world and making it available for posterity. I am saving her image – and perhaps her soul.