Friday, 8 July 2011

Sepia Saturday 82: Now Playing on Platform Number Two

The photographic prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday theme is an atmospheric shot from the Library of Congress collection of the interior of Chicago's Union Station, taken in 1943 by Jack Delano. My own contribution is from my personal collection, and the subjects might well have been spotted busking at Nottingham Railway Station half a century or so earlier.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Blind musicians, by H.L. Morel, Nottingham
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Unfortunately there is no caption or inscription on this mounted paper print, so the identity of the subjects is at present unknown. From what I can remember of the eBay listing, it was purported to depict two well known blind musicians from Nottingham, but there was nothing more specific (and that could have been deduced from the photograph alone). Nor have I been able to discover anything further about this elderly couple, their dog and accordion. It is possible that the portrait was taken on behalf of and as a fundraising exercise for the Midland Institution of the Blind, set up in Nottingham in the mid-1840s, but that is really just conjecture on my part. I also note that it is very similar in character to a portrait of an old blind beggar taken by eminent Derby photographer W.W. Winter in the late 1890s or early 1900s, and still on display in the Winter's studio today.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The print is roughly similar in size to that of a cabinet card (102.5 x 150 mm), but pasted onto a printed and patterned brown card mount measuring 201 x 253 mm. The photographer's name and location, "H.L. Morel Nottingham" is blind stamped - no pun intended - beneath the lower right corner of the printed frame. This style of mount was in popular use in Edwardian times, and judging from the style of clothing and studio props, I estimate this portrait was taken between 1900 and 1910.


Carte de visite portrait of unidentified child, c.1892-1893
by H.L. Morel, Newcastle Chambers, Market Place, Nottingham

Henri Louis Morel (1858-1917) arrived in Nottingham in the early 1880s, having trained as a photographer with the prestigious London firm of Elliot & Fry. Initially he was employed at the studio of A.W. Cox, then being run by Cox's wife Ellen Elizabeth Cox. Morel married Sarah Elizabeth Munson at Nottingham in May 1883, and around 1885 he started to operate his own business from their home at 31 Bentinck Road, Hyson Green.


As the business became more successful, and perhaps attracted more influential patronage, he moved successively into new premises at 36 Goldsmith Street (1887), Newcastle Chambers, Angel Row (1892) and 126 Mansfield Road (1898).

Image © North East Midland Photographic Record & courtesy of Picture the Past
Emptying and loading trams, Clifton Colliery, 1895
by H.L. Morel, Nottingham (Image ref. NTGM009567)
Image © North East Midland Photographic Record & courtesy of Picture the Past

Morel took commissions for work outside the studio too, as did many portrait photographers of the time. In April 1887, in conjunction with Henry Levy, he produced some group portraits as mementos of the visit of Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill to Nottingham.

Image © North East Midland Photographic Record & courtesy of Picture the Past
Hard coal face spragged and timbered ready for holeing, Clifton Colliery
by H.L. Morel, Nottingham (Image ref. NTGM009559)
Image © North East Midland Photographic Record & courtesy of Picture the Past

In the early 1890s, he accompanied several sporting teams to events and successfully produced a number of popular group portraits. In 1895 he produced an important series of views showing underground working conditions at Clifton Colliery Nos. 1 and 2 Pits.

Henri Morel continued operating from Mansfield Road until at least 1910, and died at Nottingham in 1917.

References

Heathcote, Bernard V. & Heathcote, Pauline F. (2001) Pioneers of Photography in Nottinghamshire 1841-1910, Nottinghamshire County Council, 62p, ISBN 0902751387.

15 comments:

  1. the first photo of the blind musicians is wonderful, I hope you are able to find out more about who they were and their lives. Thanks for the link to Winters. Very interesting post!

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  2. The dog's chain is set off by the watch chains on the mens' waistcoats.

    Those mining pictures would make a valuable addition to the history of mining in Nottinghamshire.

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  3. The dog really makes the first portrait look more interesting than most portraits.

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  4. Fascinating post and excellent research. In the photo of the buskers I notice there is only one musical instrument. Perhaps one performed while the other held out the hat? or perhaps the other sang? I'd love to know what they sounded like.

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  5. I'm always fascinated by photos that show the interior of mines. I'm also fascinated by the photo of the two buskers...and mostly their accordion.

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  6. Another fascinating exploration of history via photography. But above and beyond all the wonderful detail, that first photograph is wonderful, showing a kind of inventiveness that was missing from so many early studio shots.

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  7. Your post is aptly named. You do a great job of telling a story and giving out info also. In the first photo the gentleman's stance reminded me of Charlie Chaplin. My FIL was a coal miner and I could not imagine working under ground like that. Great job.
    QMM

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  8. I too like the way the dog chain mirrors the man's watch chain. It must have been interesting work being a photographer.

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  9. I love the way the starting point of Platform 2 has taken us all the way into the mines. A fascinating journey.

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  10. The Colliery photos are most interesting to me because of the coal miners among my ancestors. Thanks for posting them.

    About the blind musicians: I'm surprised that they are wearing watches, considering that they are blind. Also, I'm impressed with how well-dressed and tidy they look when they weren't able to look in a mirror to see themselves.

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  11. I found all these pictures interesting. As for the blind musicians and their watch chains, could it be they wore them as a fashion 'statement'? Some watches would have had no glass, so they could feel where the hands were. Brett will know the answer I'm sure.

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  12. A great post on the hidden stories of an old photograph. I see two brothers with the same disability, but not necessarily buskers. Nell is right, many older pocket-watches have double covers with no glass. I think they might be music hall performers.

    The coal mine photos are terrific examples of early occupational photos. Since so few people could ever go into a mine, even the wives of the coal miners probably had no idea of the environment, these pictures most have had an impact.

    But how did the photographer get light for his camera? Such low light exposure required some skill. Early flashpowder would not be safe in a mine. Perhaps mirrors reflecting sunlight down the shaft?

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  13. I'd love to know more about the two blind musicians, what a shame their names seem to have been lost. I'd never thought of the problems of light in a coal mine before, that explains why there aren't many pictures about I suppose.

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  14. at first when I saw the blind musicians I thought the post would continue along with where they performed, etc. but I read on that you hit the stumble block. Never the less, lots of good information here and fascinating photos.

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  15. Sometimes I just sit back and wonder how they took some of those pictures back then...amazing...the first one with the blind men, their doggie looks a lot like my Allie, just a cutie! Thanks for sharing these priceless gems!

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