I'll admit right at the start that my photograph this week has little in common with the Sepia Saturday prompt, except that it shows a number of figures seated in a line, from top left to bottom right of the image, ostensibly facing towards the left of the camera. I hope you'll excuse this ill-disciplined straying from topic, but I'd like to attempt a deconstruction of a somewhat unusual image which has no obvious clues as to who the subjects are, or what event is illustrated.
Unidentified group photograph
Postcard format photograph by unidentified photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Another recent eBay find, this unused standard postcard format photograph came without any documentation as to location or provenance. The almost vertical, slightly curved black line in the middle of the photograph slightly displaces vertically the two halves of the image. This suggests that it was printed from a cracked glass plate negative, the printer not having been very careful about aligning the two pieces of glass.
Reverse of postcard format photograph by unidentified photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
The back of the postcard has no photographer's imprint, and the stamp box is of an unusual stylised design that I can't recall coming across before. It's not listed on Ron Playle's Real Photo Stamp Boxes pages either. The use of glass plate camera of this format/size suggests that the event was important enough to warrant having a photographer on hand to make a record, but the fact that he didn't use postcard stock with his name printed on it suggests that he may not have had en established studio.
The figures are seated on chairs arranged on a well clipped lawn in front of a large tree shading some shrubbery to the right. The shape of the leaves and texture of the bark are very suggestive of the horse chestnut tree, as shown below, according to Wikipedia "widely cultivated in streets and parks throughout the temperate world," presumably as a feature and for the deep shade it produces. Of course it was also the friend of many a schoolboy, at least in my father's time, as the producer of conkers.
Horse chestnut tree Aesculus hippocastanum
Image courtesy of Alvesgaspar/Wikipedia
Nigel Aspdin, who also had a look over this photograph, thinks the leaves look fairly fresh; in the English Midlands, by September they tend to become rather tatty, so this was probably taken in mid-summer.
Behind and to the right of the tree trunk is a pillar or plinth of some kind. It may be for a sundial, although it seems a little high for that, and I can't make out any sign of the characteristic shape of a gnomon. There is also a T-shaped item set at a roughly 45 degree angle in the middle ground, but I've not been able to come up with any ideas as to what that might be.
To the left of the tree trunk, and roughly at the same distance from the camera as the pillar, is a multiple strand wire fence, with two Union Jacks on poles affixed to it, say about 5 paces apart. Although it cannot be seen in the photograph, there is probably a road or country lane on the other side of the fence. The flags appear to have been placed there to mark the venue.
To the far left, and apparently reversed right up to the fence, is a commercial van, possibly a Morris 1929 light van or similar make/model, as shown in in the slightly inappropriately named Austin7nut's Flickr photostream here and here. Seated in the open back of the van is a man in more casual attire - waistcoat and shirt sleeves - seated on a stool, with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. I think he's waiting for the talking to be over, and have speculated that he may be a caterer. When the talk is over perhaps he will, with the aid of others on the near side of the fence, off-load the food and transport it onto tables somewhere behind or to the left of the camera.
There are six men and three women, all fairly well-dressed, and probably well-heeled. The men have hats off, the women leave theirs on, as convention dictates for an outdoors gathering. The women's clothing and bar-strap shoes are distinctively late 1920s, with the high-crowned cloche (right) giving way to the deeper brimmed coal scuttle hat (centre). The older woman's brimless hat (left) may be a modified cloche, also typical of the 1920s.
The group seated on the chairs appear to be facing an unseen group of people off to the left of the postcard view, the toe of one man's shoe just visible in the extreme lower left corner of the image.
The woman standing in the centre of the seated group appears to be either addressing the gathering or answering questions. The man seated at far left, whose jacket and trousers are not quite as well-fitting as those of the others, also faces the crowd. It's perhaps also worth noting that few of the chairs match.
The remaining subjects are studiously avoiding eye contact with the gathering in front of them. Both of the men at the right, one with a nicely waxed moustache and a hat on the ground next to his chair, the other adjusting his pince nez, avert their gazes to their left. The latter, however, has considered the occasion important enough to wear a rose in his buttonhole. The rest either look down to the ground or pointedly off into the distance, perhaps towards where tables are being set up for lunch. Five of the men - all except the more relaxed gent on the far left - have their legs crossed, which may or may not have any significance.
Are they feeling uncomfortable with what the older of the three women is saying? Alternatively, perhaps she is answering some awkward questions from members of the audience. Perhaps they are just bored, and looking forward to lunch.
Who are they? Nigel suggests they might be engineers, professionals, management, etc. However with the women present, and given the pre-Second World War time frame, I'm inclined to think it far less likely to be a commercial occasion than a meeting of a village committee or the Board of Governors of a local school, perhaps comprising several landowners.
I feel they key to who they are probably lies in the rather odd-looking apparatus under the tree, behind the line of people. It appears to be a sloping board made from rather thick planks, on which several blocks of varying sizes and shapes are arranged. I think I can see some drawing pins, and possibly something like a tap handle. One of the shapes seems very irregular, and is perhaps a mineralogical specimen. What are they, samples, models, prizes? No means of support for the platform is visible, which is a pity, as this might have helped in its identification. If it had been held up by a centrally placed post, for example, I might have suggested something like a rudimentary lectern.
It's position at the time the photograph was taken suggests it may have been used or displayed earlier during the event, but had subsequently been moved out of the way during subsequent discussions.
There are also the remnants of what may be a negative number or title. Such an inscription would have been inscribed on the glass plate negative with black indian ink, thus appearing white on a print, and may have been partly removed prior to the making of this particular print.
Where are they? Is it a private garden or public park? Bearing in mind the fence bordering the lawn, I'm leaning towards the former. Perhaps illustrious Photo-Sleuth readers, including our regular Sepians, will be able to offer further ideas and suggestions. They'll be most welcome. For the moment I'm stumped, and the occasion must remain something of a mystery.
Post Script (4 May 2013)
Thanks to Paul Godfrey, the postcard printer's logo has been identified.
The logo seems to be a stylised W and W, used by the UK paper manufacturer Wellington and Ward of Elstree. I have a few walkies by Barker's Studio of Lowestoft that have this logo. W and W became part of the Ilford Group. I believe the Elstree site was later occupied by Dufay.