The Sepia Saturday prompt photo this week shows a man standing in a deep bank of snow on a sidewalk in Keene, New Hampshire, "after the great storm, March 13, 1888." I'm sticking with the theme only peripherally, in the sense that it shows people in front of houses, and I'm once again grateful to Gail Durbin for giving me the idea for the topic.
Another area that fascinates me is images of people standing outside their houses in photographs that show the whole house. Was this a winter activity for beach photographer? I think one of my cards actually has a message saying that a photographer had come to the road that day.
Unidentified family in front of their home, postmarked Leytonstone, 1910
Postcard portrait by unidentified photographer
Image © lovedaylemon and courtesy of Flickr
On the reverse of this postcard in Gail's collection is written the following message.
A photographer came today to take the houses.The family are posed along the short garden path in front of what is presumed to be their home. Whether the family or the house were the primary motive for the portrait is not clear, but it falls within a large genre of photographs of people taken in outdoors settings, and more specifically with their home featuring prominently in the view, apparently by photographers who roamed the suburbs touting for business.
Lovedaylemon's "Us outside our house" set at Flickr
Gail has a huge set of several hundred such images on Flickr, fittingly entitled, "Us outside our house," which are well worth a browse. The bulk of them are postcards, and probably date from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, with a few as late as the 1930s. I hadn't noticed previously, but Gail is quite correct that a large proportion of the portraits seem to have beeen taken in winter, as evidenced by the leafless trees and ivy. What is more unusual is to have a record of the circumstances surrounding the actual taking of the portrait.
Baker-Haseldine family in Derby, 1920
Mounted print by L.P. Hitchens
Image © and courtesy of Jane Porter
In an article written in April 2008 I discussed a family group portrait taken in an informal garden setting in the suburbs of Derby. According to the story told to photograph owner Jane Porter by family members:
It was 1920 in Derby. That was the year when my gran - Madge - was born. The story is that a photographer knocked the door and offered to take a photo of them. They rushed to get themselves tidied up and cut some roses from the back garden to hold. Ethel (the middle of back row) had just been doing the washing (she'd had her sleeves rolled up).The photographer L.P. Hitchen (1877-1922) was a cotton weaver in Burnley, Lancashire for much of his life, and probably only tried his hand at photography for a brief period, not long enough even to have card mounts printed. I can find no other record of his photographic work apart from this portrait.
Portrait of unidentified family group and house, c. mid- to late 1860s
Carte de visite by Thomas B. Mellor of Belper, Derbyshire
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia Maddock
Cynthia Maddock sent me this image of a much earlier carte de visite portrait in the same vein, featuring a large family, complete with baby and cat, arranged in front of an old thatched cottage. Thomas Barker Mellor of The Butts, Belper, Derbyshire practised as a photographer in and around that town for roughly a decade from the late 1860s until the mid- to late 1870s. While he may have had a studio, I have yet to come across an example of his work which hasn't been taken outdoors. Even an 1874 group portrait of Butterly Company workers appears to have taken place in a hastily constructed makeshift studio in an outdoors setting. A garden at Pentrich Lane End formed the backdrop to the charming Fletcher family portrait taken c. 1867, as shown in a charming carte de visite in Robert Silverwood's collection.
Portrait of unidentified family group and house, c. late 1880s-early 1890s
Cabinet card by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin (Hewitt collection)
I am particularly interested in such examples, as they provide valuable information on a group of photographers who otherwise tended not to leave much in the way of documentary evidence of their work, even though their output was often prodigious. I can't be sure, and certainly can't provide any sources for it, but I believe some photographers may have specialised in this house-to-house trade. From as early as the 1850s there were itinerant photographers who would frequent country fairs, but I believe there were also plenty of practitioners who never had permanent studio premises, and sought out customers wherever they could find them. If that meant going from house to house in the suburbs, then that's what they did.
The Payne family at home, c.1894-1895
Cabinet card portrait by A & G Taylor of Derby
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
In spite of the photographer's imprint suggesting a studio in Queen Anne Buildings, New Briggate, Leeds, I believe this portrait of my grandfather and his parents to have been taken in the garden of their house (and grocer's shop) at 83 St James' Road, Derby, not long after their return from Chicago in late 1892. A greenhouse is visible in the background, and my great-grandfather is sitting on a newspaper to prevent his suit trousers from being ruined by sitting in the rockery. A & G Taylor was a huge firm with branches country-wide; several of these branch studios in the Midlands (Derby, Nottingham, Leeds & Sheffield) were run together by a manager William Middleton in the 1880s and 1890s. I suspect that they temporarily ran out of stock of card mounts for the Derby branch at this time, and used some old card stock, since the Leeds branch was by that time being managed by someone else. I think it likely that the photographer was touring the neighbourhood, and the Payne family made the most of the unexpected opportunity.
Uncle Hallam, Aunt Sarah & Leslie Payne, St James' Road, Derby
Postcard portrait by unidentified photographer, c. 1907-1909
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
A decade later this postcard portrait taken on the street outside the same house and off-licence, then occupied by my grandfather's Uncle Hallam, was almost certainly taken by a similarly opportunistic photographer. It depicts, from left to right, an unidentified female shop worker, Sarah Emma Payne (1870-1946), Charles Hallam Payne (1870-1960), my grandfather Charles Leslie Lionel Payne (1892-1975) handling an early form of shopping cart - presumably used for transporting beer deliveries indoors - and an unidentified young man in charge of Hallam's horse and brewer's dray.
Charles and Maud Gunson at their house near Tauranga, c. 1911-1913
Postcard portrait by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection
Part of my work as a volunteer at the Tauranga Heritage Collection involves scanning of old photographs in the collection. This image of a postcard is from a group which belonged to the Stewart and Gunson families of Tauranga and Katikati, and shows Charles and Maud Gunson in front of a wooden house with enclosing verandahs and a fenced garden with several shrubs. No photographer's imprint is shown on the back of the postcard. Since no children are shown, it is likely to have been taken shortly after their marriage in 1911. At that time, the most likely type of camera used to produce this format would have employed glass plates, and is therefore less likely to have been in the hands of an amateur, since roll film cameras were easily available by then and were far more portable. It is likely, therefore, that this too was taken by a travelling, or at least roving, professional photographer.
Various unidentified children, late 1890s - early 1900s
Cabinet card portraits by Frank Day of Heanor
Images © & courtesy of Alan Craxford and Terry Smith
Although his portraits concentrate on the human subjects and give little prominence to the houses and gardens, Frank Day was another Derbyshire photographer who made a practice of visiting customer's homes in Heanor from the late 1890s until about 1912. The Ray Street address given on some of his cabinet card mounts is where he was living in 1901, so perhaps he had a darkroom and processing facility at home, but no studio. It is interesting to note that in April 1911 the census shows him near Pontypridd in Wales. He described himself as a photographer working on his own account, so perhaps he was preparing for the influx of spring visitors to Wales. If so this would lend support to Gail's idea that such photographers may have followed the seasonal trade.
Child and caged bird in conservatory, c.1890s
Cabinet card by unidentified photographer
Image © & collection of Brett Payne
I have many portraits taken in similar settings, sadly now bereft of any documentation to demonstrate how the photographer and client found each other. More often than not, they don't even have the photographer's imprint or location to show where they are from. For a more affluent family, I suspect that a studio photographer might be summoned from his regular premises to the client's home, and would perhaps expect to charge somewhat above his standard studio rate for the extra effort involved. However, a less well known practitioner sans premises in the High Street, and consequently without the attached overhead expenses, who was touting for business by door-knocking in a residential suburb might be able to reduce his charges to somewhat less than the going rate in order to attract customers. I suppose it was a niche readily filled by those without the resources to rent and fit out expensive studios with backdrops, furniture and props.
I suspect I've moved well away from the theme that most Sepians will follow this week, so if you want some variety, please pay them a visit. There are a few to get around, so it might be an idea to bookmark Sepia Saturday and make it a regular haunt.