This is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. It is my attempt to match this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt image – which is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. The prompt photograph dates from the early years of the twentieth century, and my little photograph is of a similar vintage. We know that the prompt image was taken somewhere in Mexico, and with a similar degree of certainty, we know my photograph was taken in Yorkshire.
I am not sure exactly who the girl in my photograph is, but if it was possible to extract DNA from a photograph, I would think there is a good chance you could match it with mine. It is a tiny photograph – about one inch square – that was stuck in the back of the postcard album kept by my mother’s uncle, Fowler Beanland. It might be my mother or her sister Amy, or it might be an earlier generation of Beanland girls. When I ask my Lightroom facial recognition for suggestions, it suggests my niece, which is obviously inaccurate in terms of date, but accurate in terms of DNA.
Whoever it turns out to be, it is a charming little photo and a rather good Sepia Saturday match.
Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows three men posing on a beach in California. My submission is one very young man posing on a beach in Yorkshire. The young man in question is my brother, the artist and sculptor, Roger Burnett. The date must have been sometime I’m the mid to late 1940s, and the place was probably Bridlington on the East Coast. The pose is rather familiar, I have a photograph of my brother and myself taken in February this year where he is striking a similar pose some seventy years on. The beaches he walks these days are in the Caribbean rather than East Yorkshire, but a sandy beach on a warm summers’ day is a fine location, wherever it is situated.
This tiny photograph was pasted onto the back page of the postcard album of my mother’s uncle, Fowler Beanland. It was only when the print was scanned and cleaned up that I begun to fully appreciate it for the charming portrait that it was: a picture of a little girl with an awfully big hat. Given that it had pride of place in Fowler’s album, the chances were that it was a family member – but which one? Fowler never married and had no children of his own, but there were a good many nieces who could potentially fit the bill. I have never been very good with faces, but even to me there seemed something vaguely familiar about that slightly quizzical look.
Luckily, these days, most photographic programmes come with some form of facial recognition software, and therefore I was able to submit the girl with the awfully big hat to Adobe Lightroom for a considered judgement, and Lightroom quickly came up with a very definite suggestion. The young girl is Amy Beanland, my mother’s sister, and favourite niece of Fowler Beanland.
Amy was very much a woman of the twentieth century. She was born in Keighley in 1904 – which means this photograph must have been taken in about 1909 – and eventually died in 2001 in Scarborough. Between these two dates she managed three husbands and a lifetime of experience. The girl with an awfully big hat had an awfully full life.
This rather chubby baby was the first photograph in one of my parent’s photograph albums. Theoretically it should be either me or my brother, but it looks nothing like Roger, and I have never been that fat. I tried facial recognition: Lightroom suggested it was my son, whilst Google suggested that it was Princess Alix of Hesse, the wife of Tsar Nicholas II (both suggestions highlight the limitations of facial recognition technology). I asked my wife who it might be: she simply smiled and said “I would recognise your fat little tummy anywhere!“.
Stories abound about so-called primitive tribes who would shun photographers in the belief that cameras can capture the spirit of the photographers’ subjects. As with many such stories, it is of dubious veracity: but if such tribes ever did exist I have a degree of sympathy with their beliefs. Nothing comes close to capturing the very essence of a person like a photograph. That was true of the 1930s – when this photograph of my father, Albert, was taken – and it is still true in this modern age of the digital selfie (although the spirit exposed by some filter-bleached offerings might not be what the subject intended).
When I look at this photograph of my father on a seaside beach (the chances are it will have been Cleethorpes), I see him … and then I see my brother, and then myself, and then my son, and even – if I squint a little – my grandson. What that box camera of eighty years ago did was to capture, not the soul or the spirit, but a decent chunk of DNA.
What a wonderful invention: a machine that takes your photograph and weighs you at the same time. And even better – it prints the resulting weight on the photograph so that you have something to remind you of that day you had an extra large portion of fish and chips, not to mention the knickerbocker glory. And if that isn’t enough, you can have the whole experienced enlarged for an extra three pence. There can only be one thing better: get you nephew to scan the photograph eighty two years later and put it on the internet for all the world to see.
The photograph shows Miriam Burnett with her then fiancé (later husband), Frank Fieldhouse. When this photograph was taken in 1936, they were only a few years into their twelve year engagement.
Scanning and retouching old photographs is a little like doing a jig-saw puzzle – it allows you to get up close to detail. Cast a passing glance at a photograph from eighty-odd years ago – you can use this photograph of my mother, Gladys, on the seaside sands as an example – and you might notice the main subject or the approximate location, and then you move on to something else entirely like making a cup of tea or watching Coronation Street. When you are scanning and retouching however, you dedicate time to detail – the shape of the handbag, the activity of the crowds in the background, the pattern of the dress. You sit down and talk to the people and share memories.