Category Archives: Scanned Negatives

Do Old Men Dream In Black And White?

I recall, many, many years ago, having a discussion with my brother, Roger, as to whether we dream in colour or black and white. I was a young lad taking photographs, with a budget that could not even imagine the expenses involved in colour photography. He was older, wiser and a “proper artist” with tubes of watercolour paint of every hue. “Of course we don’t dream in black and white, black and white is a completely unnatural way of seeing the world brought about by the technical inability of you photographers“.  The conversation took place sixty years ago and therefore I might not have remembered it word-for-word, but it went something like that. And no doubt, before the day is out, Roger will be correcting my faulty memory from the other side of the world.

We may not dream in black and white, but it is the palette of choice of my memory. I took this photograph fifty years ago on one of those little afterthought terraces up Southowram Bank in Halifax. Surely the grass must have been green, the stone brown and the sky blue: but I don’t remember it like that.

There is an enthusiasm at the moment to colourise old photographs. To do so, you make judgements about the correct colours to introduce to a scene. Sky is usually blue, and there is a fair chance that grass is green. But when I was a young, the sky was usually a mucky grey colour, and the grass could be as black as coal or as white as an old man’s beard. The world was monochrome …. and I still dream of it that way.

A Perspective On Age

Just for a change, I know precisely where I took this photograph from some forty-odd years ago. The houses are still there, pinned to the side of Southowram Bank with all the gravity-defying stubbornness that only a Yorkshire builder can demonstrate. It is Blaithroyd Lane, Halifax, and if you turn to Google Street View or the like, the houses are unchanged.  Trees, however, have invaded the hillside since this photograph was taken in the early 1970s, and the scale of the scene seems to have been transformed. You get the impression from this photograph that you could have watched a match at the Shay football ground from the back room window without the need of even a basic pair of binoculars. These days, the Shay seems a bus ride away. Perhaps it is the trees, maybe it was the lens I was using in my camera back then. More likely it is age-related perspective syndrome (ARPS) brought about by a surfeit of life.

Reflections On Beauty

Like anyone else, I can see the beauty in a natural landscape. Find me a photograph of craggy hills sweeping down to mirror-smooth lakes and I will swoon with the best of them. Get me a picture of ripe-rich grain swaying in an evening breeze against a bucolic green background, and I will pin it over my mantlepiece. But ….

But, I come from Halifax, and my West Yorkshire genes are programmed to find beauty in muck and grime. In the grey sky being reflected on stone cobbles. In black chimneys punctuating flat clouds. In mischievous curves creeping into twisted railway lines. 

A sack-load of art on the back of an old wagon parked in the shade of North Bridge, Halifax. I took this photograph fifty years ago. It’s all been knocked down now and they have built a nice new Leisure Centre in its place. There are probably inspirational pictures inside the Leisure Centre of mountain paths and bright green fields.

Some Escape

This old photograph of mine dates from fifty years ago and it shows a mill fire escape somewhere in Halifax. The good old days, before all this health and safety nonsense, when your mill could catch fire at the drop of a fag end, and a swift exit down the fire escape would give you more thrills than a trip to a theme park; followed by a hundred foot plunge onto a stone cobbled lane. People weren’t mollycoddled back then; their bodies weren’t wrapped in cotton wool ….. just their lungs.

Temporal Adrenalin

Most of us respond positively to a challenge. I don’t mean serious, grown-up challenges such as dry rot in your floorboards or your wife running off with the milkman, but life-enhancing challenges such as climbing a mountain or collecting matchbox labels. For some people it is pedalling a bike backwards up a very steep hill (good morning, Martin), for others it is skiing blindfolded down a precipice (how are you today, Ian); but for me it has always been dating old photographs.

For some reason, for the last shot on this particular strip of negatives, my attention was caught by a row of posters. The photograph may be of limited artistic interest, but what it lacks in creativity it more than makes up for with temporal significance. What us date-spotters love more than anything is a watershed, and what better watersheds have there been in the modern era than decimalisation. Back in February 1971 the world changed, and that transition from 12/6 to 62.5p provides nerds like me with endless pleasure. We therefore know that the photograph predates decimalisation. 

There are dates on the posters, but no years, but dates themselves can be a useful tool in pinning down the exact year. The wrestling poster features a contest between Mick McManus and Mick McMichael, which, in itself, isn’t much use, as they seem to have fought each other on a weekly basis for more than a decade. But if they wrestled on Wednesday 13th August it must have been either in 1963, 1969 or 1975. The first of those dates is too early for most of my photographic activity, the last is after the introduction of decimal currency, and therefore we are left with August 1969.
The qualifying round of the British Speedway Northern Riders Championship at the Halifax Stadium on the 9th August is the clincher, the detailed records held on the Official Website of British Speedway confirm that the event took place that night in Halifax in 1969 (Eric Boocock was the winner, by the by).

So, there we have it. I took this photograph in July or August 1969. Now that is settled, where’s my bungee jumping cord?

Hunting A Finisher

Old Haligonians in their hundreds came forward yesterday to pin down the location of the photo of, what I though was, Gaol Lane: it appears that it was, in fact, most likely the adjacent Ann Street. During the day I was sent several old maps of this particular part of Halifax, and the fascinating exercise was trying to fit the jumble of streets, buildings, and even mill ponds, into the area we know today. It’s almost as though an entire bygone world can be compressed into what, effectively, is a Marks and Spencer Car Park.

The maps will be useful in trying to pin down where I went to next after leaving Ann Street. The next photograph on the strip of negatives, again features Halifax Town Hall, but this time as seen through the frame of a half demolished window. I have tried to make some sense of the lettering in the window above the doorway, and the best I can come up with is –SS / IN-SHERS (oh why didn’t I move the camera slightly to the left?).  The letters could help to form “Brass Finishers” and I have studied the second map in detail trying to find such an establishment. There are mineral water manufacturers, rag warehouses, bolt stores, marine stores (!), and even a brass foundry, but there are no brass finishers I can find.

No doubt, before the day is through, someone will have pinned down the exact spot, but even if they can’t, it doesn’t matter. The hunt itself is just as enjoyable as the outcome.

Go To Gaol

At some stage in the late 1960s, large sections of the bottom end of Halifax were demolished. These were the streets that ran from Market Street, down to the appropriately named Winding Road. They are etched into my youthful memory – longer, grander, greater than they undoubtedly were – but their names are largely lost to me. This is one such street. That is Halifax Town Hall in the background, and I have a feeling that it might by Gaol Lane, but I turn to my fellow Haligonians of a certain age for either confirmation or correction.

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