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.
I am not sure if I was attracted to this little Victorian portrait by the look in the eye of the sitter or because in was taken in the studios of Sydney Barton in New Brighton. I remember New Brighton well from childhood seaside trips (the name “New Brighton” was a triumph for positively-spun nomenclature second only to the island of “Greenland”). Barton was listed in the 1901 census as living at 95 Victoria Road, New Brighton along with his wife, three children and a live-in maid. His occupation was that most trendy of late-Victorian occupations – “photographer”. It always amazes me how a bit of pasteboard, just four inch by two and a half, can have so much history stuck to it.
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.
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.