Category Archives: Pictures From Nowhere

The Age Of The Smile

Photograph Of Unknown Family – 1920s/30s

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.

Cruising Faces

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.

Through The Viewfinder

This photograph comes from a collection of old photos bought as a job lot on eBay for less than the price of a pint. I am a great fan of the novel “Sweet Caress” by William Boyd, and as soon as I saw this photograph I thought of Amory Clay, the heroine of that fine book. Boyd himself is an enthusiastic collector of anonymous photographs and “Sweet Caress” is richly illustrated with them. If there is ever a second edition of the book, I will be happy to contribute this fine photograph.

A Question Of Sport

This is an old, real photographic postcard that must date from the first part of the twentieth century, and is full of questions. I can not be certain about the date, the place, the sport or the team. There are eleven players so I am immediately drawn to a football team (soccer team). The only real clue is a name and address on the reverse of the card:-

W Bate, 43, Shroggs Terrace, Shroggs Road, Halifax

The only W Bate I have been able to track down in Halifax at about the right time was a prominent member of the Independent Order of Oddfellows (a PPGM  which might mean Past Provincial Grand Master).  I might, however, be barking up the wrong sporting tree. If any of my Halifax contacts recognises any of these sportsmen, they are welcome to the card.

A Paper Portal To The Past

If there is one thing you would have needed in 1919, it is a bit of a tonic. The memories of the carnage on the fields of Flanders are still raw, and the influenza epidemic is now picking off many of the people who survived. So this old photographic postcard from exactly 100 years ago seems most appropriate.

Someone has usefully identified this group of young people as “The Tonics Concert Party” of Birds Royd Mission in Brighouse, West Yorkshire.  These days, the Birds Royd area of Brighouse – which is just down the road from where I live – is mainly a bustling business and industrial estate, but 100 years ago it was still a crowded residential area, with street after street of terraced housing. Where there were nineteenth century houses in the industrial north of England, there were Methodist churches and chapels and missions of every possible variety; and in Birds Royd there was a thriving Mission Church – with its own Concert Party to provide entertainment for the congregation.

This old postcard, which I seem to recall I acquired from an Antique Centre, is a unique paper portal to a different age, albeit only 100 years ago. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the number of young men in the Concert Party is half that of young women. The Great War still cast a cloud over areas such as Birds Royd. Any kind of tonic was most welcome.

With Love From Hilda And Leo

There is something rather joyous about this little sepia print. The caption on the reverse simply says “With love from Hilda and Leo”, and it is the smile on Hilda’s face that is so striking. The photograph must have been taken during the mid 1920s, which suggests that Leo might have been one of those lucky men to have survived the Great War – or even luckier ones to have been too young to sacrifice. That smile is a smile of the times, the kind of smile you never got in the tight-knit confines of an Edwardian studio. The previous generation can just be made out at that back of the shot; half there, looking on from an earlier, sadder era. Hilda and Leo are happy and in love … and alive.

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