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.
Tag Archives: Old Photographs
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.
PICTURES FROM NOWHERE : OAKS AND STONE, RUPERRA, 7th APRIL 1932
An old photograph of a young man walking near Ruperra Castle in Wales in 1932. The photo is entitled “Oaks and Stone”, but that poetic title is the extent of my knowledge.
This is a print from a tiny album of photographs taken in 1932 at Ruperra Castle in Wales. Whoever took the photograph has given it the rather poetic title “Oaks and Stone”, and the subject has adopted somewhat aesthetic pose. During the early 1930s, the castle was the property of Evan Morgan, 4th Baron and 2nd Viscount Tredegar. Morgan was a noted poet and eccentric and a friend of people such as the poet, Lord Alfred Douglas; the painter, Augustus John; the socialite Nancy Cunard; and the author, H G Wells. Our figure is clearly none of those, but I would happily give an oak dresser or a stone jar to know who it was.
My first thoughts about this studio photograph of an unknown young woman was that it might have been taken during the Great War. There is a confidence about her – the kind of confidence which came from women working in the factories and workshops, a confidence that somehow rose above the dangers of the workplace and the tragedy taking place in the trenches. On the reverse of the photograph is the name of the photographer: N.G. Woodhead of 27, Midland Road, Wellingborough. I have only found one reference to Mr Woodhead on-line, and that suggests that he didn’t take charge of the Wellingborough studio until 1918. So maybe that look is the confidence of post-war youth.
There is a short caption on the reverse of this small print, and it suggests that the photograph was taken in Ramsgate in July 1934. I am no expert on women’s fashion, but the 1934 date seems about right for this somewhat distinctive dress. Just looking at the heads on show and I might have thought that it dated from the previous decade: all those round hats and tightly bobbed hair. Some hair styles never seem to come back into fashion – thank goodness!
This is a scan of a quarter-plate glass negative which must date from the end of the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The seven featured subjects are an interesting collection: they could be the staff of a draper’s shop or a saloon bar. There is something vaguely H G Wells about them – that might be a young Mr Polly at the back on the left … or an old Mr Polly in the front centre. As with any good novel, the question we must ask when we first meet the main characters is – “what’s in store for them?”
I visited the Fashion Museum in Bath last week and, whilst the features exhibits were all very interesting, they tended to concentrate on the clothes being worn by Kings, Queens, Dukes and the like. If I have an interest in fashion, it is as a means of dating photographs – and the photographs I am interested in tend to be about as far removed from the aristocracy as Bath is from Bradford.
I suspect that this photograph dates from the mid 1920s. As is always the case, fashion is the province of the young, and the most distinctive clothing is certainly worn by the young lady on the extreme left of the group.
Her elderly relative – second from the right – clings to the fashion of her Edwardian youth.