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.
As with so many of my old photographs, I have no idea who this person is, nor where the photograph was taken. The “when” question, however, is far more inviting, and the lady in question whispers “1920s’ to me.
You never see this kind of look these days: today it’s all smiles and Facebook filters. This little Victorian print is less than two inches by one, but it manages to pack so much life into such a confined space.
This rather beautiful studio photograph that somehow found its way into my collection must date from the early years of the twentieth century. There is something about the look and dress of the woman that hints more towards Great War munition worker than Victorian housewife. There is an indented studio name near the bottom of the print that seems to be J. Lister, Crossgates, but I can find no record of such a studio.
At first I thought that this was one of the hundreds of lost and abandoned old photographs that I provide a home for. They live in boxes and cases, they hang in filing cabinets and folders; they create a hazard to anyone trying to navigate their way through my office. Every so often I reach into one of the boxes and pull a photograph out, scan it, and then file it away with a title such as “Unknown Girl No 573“.
But with this one, something stopped me and it wasn’t just the quality of the picture and the eye-catching look. I suddenly saw my wife of 47 years. Clearly it is not actually her, but the resemblance is sufficient to make me think it might be a close relative. It wouldn’t be the first time such relatives had turned up in one of my lost and abandoned files. Rather than dash downstairs to see if she recognises the person in the photograph, I shall leave it here for her to discover when she looks at my blog later. So message to my wife: who is it?
Consider the journey, if you will. This beautiful photograph of a young woman was taken at the studios of P & H Koch in the city of Crefeld (now Krefeld), just north of Dusseldorf in Germany. The reverse of the Carte de Visite makes reference to the Koch studio having won medals at a photographic exhibition in Dusseldorf in 1896, so that probably dates this portrait to around the turn of the twentieth century. How did this young lady get from pre-Great War Germany to a box at the end of my desk?
Did she dance at balls in Rhineland-Westphalia and shop on the elegant boulevards of Dusseldorf? Did she lose a lover or a son in the mud-caked trenches of the Great War? Did she scrape for food during the Great Inflation and the depression years that followed? Did she hide in the shadows, or cheer in the streets, during the rise and fall of Hitler? Did she survive to see hope and prosperity again?
Her secrets are hidden deep within the pasteboard, at rest – and at peace – in the box at the end of my desk.
If you are locked-in, socially isolated, tired of twiddling your thumbs: what better to do than to go searching for photographs. You can’t get out, however; so the search has to be conducted from the safety of your desktop. You don’t even need a stack of pictures: old photographs have layer after layer of art locked up within them. All I know about the original picture is that it was taken in 1928 somewhere in South Devon. I have no idea who the various subject of this photograph are – but that doesn’t matter: we are in search of patterns and pleasing images rather than family history.
FOUR CRAZY GOLFERS : Who they are, I have no idea, but don’t they look to be having fun! The date could be anywhere between the mid 1930s and the mid 1950s. Why they seem to be wearing their raincoats the wrong way round remains a mystery.
There is something particularly engaging about this photograph of three women on a beach, which must date from the 1940s or early 1950s. The beach may be stoney rather than sandy, but the three women are wonderful pictures of their time. Their hairstyles could have been created by the make-up department of some twenty-first century period social drama; their smiles are absolutely genuine.