Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sepia Saturday 188: The Cornwall Coast in Colour


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett

A couple of months ago I purchased a large collection of glass plate negatives, and used several of these to illustrate a piece I wrote for Sepia Saturday about a visit to the Pleasure Palaces of Southport. In the second of a planned series of articles about this intriguing collection we return to the English coastline with six colour positive glass plate slides taken by an unknown amateur photographer.

The six slides each measure 89 x 63mm (3½" x 2½"), with the printable area roughly 3¼" x 2¼", corresponding to the standard quarter-plate format used by most amateur glass plate cameras in the early to mid-1900s. All six are coastal views but, like the rest of the collection, none have anything to indicate where they might have been taken, despite having a very English feel to them.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

It was this view that provided the first clue. As a trained geologist I'm pretty familiar with landscapes and outcrop patterns produced by a variety of rock types, and this headland with its blocky nature produced by weathering of rectangular joint patterns seems to me very typical of granite.

Image © and courtesy of the Ordnance Survey
Geology of Cornwall and Devon
portion of Geological Survey "Ten-Mile" Map (1957)
Image © and courtesy of the Ordnance Survey

From what I remember of my A-Level geology studies the only place in England that you're likely to find granite right on the coast is in Cornwall, as the portion of the Geological Survey map for that area shows rather dramatically. The red blobs are granite intrusions, and the blob at the far left covers the land around Penzance, St Ives and Land's End.


Land's End, Cornwall
View Larger Map

That still leaves a fair distance of coastline to search, but if you're visiting Cornwall, what better place to take a photograph than at Land's End, that most touristic and memorable of spots, so that's where I looked first. You can search this coastline very effectively using either Google Maps or Google Earth. Noticing that the view in that first slide had some rocks off shore, with perhaps a lighthouse on one of them, I used Google Maps to come up with this view of rocky islets a few hundred metres to the west of Land's End.

Image © Tom Hurley and courtesy of 360 Cities
Land's End, Cornwall
Image © Tom Hurley and courtesy of 360 Cities

Google Earth gives you the opportunity to "fly through" the landscape in virtual 3-D, and to access "spherical panoramic" images hosted by 360 Cities. One of these fortuitously shows almost the exact view as in the slide, taken from Dr Syntax's Head with the Longships islets and lighthouse, as well as Kettle's Bottom rock, in the distance.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Walking a few metres out to the headland and turning right to face north-east gives us the scene shown in the second of the slides (above). The rugged coastline is identifiable by the characteristic sea arches, and a hotel building just visible on the horizon. These two panoramas can be viewed via browser on the 360 Cities web site here and here.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Harbour View A

The next three slides show a harbour, taken from different spots around the shoreline. This image is the most interesting, and in some ways frustrating, of the three. A large crowd gathers around something almost hidden from the view of the photographer. In the right foreground a neatly dressed woman pats the neck of a horse, complete with full collar and harness attached to the shafts of the cart, the buckboard of which is just visible through the crowd. Clearly the people are jostling for a closer view of whatever is on the cart. One man, wearing rolled up shirt sleeves and a flat cap, is standing at what is probably the tailgate of the cart, and has the attention of many in the crowd. At far left of the foreground, standing on some kind of platform, are three teenagers including two girls with dark blue school blazer, one with an unidentifiable crest.

A lorry with large drums piled on the back is parked between the crowd and the water. Almost hidden behind the cab of the truck, several boys play in waist-deep water. The harbour is scattered with boats at anchor, ranging from small pleasure craft to larger commercial fishing boats. A long stone wharf or breakwater extends almost across the entire width of the photo, with two lighthouses, a large one centrally placed and a smaller one at the distal end, marking one side of the harbour entrance. A couple of dozen cars, mostly black, are parked along the wharf, reminding one of that well worn quote often attributed to Henry Ford, "You can have any colour as long as it's black." The car at the far right looks like an early Morris Minor, first manufactured in 1948. Also arrayed intermittently down the wharf are a number of people standing and sitting, obviously enjoying the warm sunshine.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Harbour View B

This view of the harbour includes the shore-end of the wharf and part of a town, with a number of boats resting at anchor and several dinghies tethered by ropes and lying on the sand in the foreground exposed by an outgoing tide.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Harbour View C

A third view of the harbour is taken from the opposite direction, the photographer standing on the shore somewhere in the middle of the previous view. Boats are at anchor or under way in the small harbour, at least four of them with visible occupants, and several men, women and children can be seen on foot investigating the intertidal sand flats.

The slopes on the other side of the harbour are clad with a substantial number of buildings, indicating a sizeable town, and a smaller wharf protecting the other side of the harbour is visible in the left middle ground. At far left in the middle ground, beyond a rocky point, a beach crowded with pleasure seekers can just be made out.

Image © and courtesy of Google Earth
St Ives, Cornwall, December 2005 (see in Google Maps)

It took a little searching, but I eventually found the harbour using Google Earth. It is St Ives, situated on the northern Cornwall coast, a town well serviced with Streetview images, which meant I could locate three perfect shots for a "Now and Then" series.

Image © and courtesy of Google Earth
St Ives Harbour View A - May 2009
Image © and courtesy of Google Earth

The first view was clearly taken near the top of this boat ramp, and I suspect the cart contains a catch of fish, crab or lobster recently hauled onshore from one of the fishing boats now at anchor in the harbour.

Image © and courtesy of Google Earth
St Ives Harbour View B - May 2009
Image © and courtesy of Google Earth

Image © and courtesy of Google Earth
St Ives Harbour View C - May 2009
Image © and courtesy of Google Earth

The second and third views indicate that the photographer was walking around the harbour as the tide went out.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The last of the six slides depicts a beach at low tide, filled with dozens of people enjoying the sunny afternoon. Some recline in their deck chairs, reading newspapers, chatting to friends or watching the children playing. The photographer has caught a young boy having just bowled a ball at his sister, and she's in the act of batting it away. Two young ladies bravely sunbathe in the lea of a rocky outcrop. Another group of children are digging in the sand. One young man or woman scans the sky anxiously, wondering how much longer the sun will last or perhaps keeping a lookout for pesky seagulls.

Image © and courtesy of Google Earth
View of Newquay Harbour entrance from Towan Beach
Image © buthe79 and courtesy of Panoramio

This has been identified as Town Beach at Newquay, which recent images show to have remained popular with holidaymakers. The rocks here are Devonian sandstones, by the way.

The clothing fashions in these photographs, particularly those worn by the women, appear to me to be typical of the post-Second World War era, i.e. the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s, illustrated by the images on Geoff Caulton's PhotoDetective web page for this period.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Detail of St Ives Harbour View A
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

It was when zooming in on these images that I noticed a very unusual feature, one that I've never previously noticed in any of the colour images that I own. Although not visible to the naked eye, the colours are actually made up of three differently coloured sets of diagonal lines. According to Robert Hirsch's history of colour photography (Hirsch, 2011), colour plates made up of a "checkerboard of red, green, and blue elements" were produced by the Finlay Colour process, also known as the Thames Colour Screen, which was originally patented in 1906 but abandoned after the Great War. It was subsequently re-introduced in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The Paget Dry Plate process, "patented in Britain in 1912 by G.S. Whitfield and first marketed by the Paget Prize Plate Company in 1913," was a very similar technique (Wikipedia).

The system used two glass plates, one of which was the colour screen plate while the other was a standard black-and-white negative plate. The colour screen plate comprised a series of red, green and blue filters, laid down in a regular pattern of lines to form a réseau, or matrix ... Transparency positives could be made from the system's panchromatic negatives by contact printing; these positives were then bound in register with a colour viewing screen of the same type as used for exposure, to reproduce the image in colour.
James Morley has a small collection of early colour positive slides produced by the Paget process here. My examples, however, appear to have been taken considerably later, probably in the very late 1940s or early 1950s.

For more coastal excursions, in various hues, visit the other participants in this week's Sepia Saturday effort.

References

Hirsch, Robert (2011) A Concise History of Color Photography, in Exploring Color Photography, 5th Edition, Focal Press.

Elusive colour: Paget colour system, on Captured in Colour, Australian War Memorial.

54 comments:

  1. Brett, you really should consider going into detective work. I love how you document the whole process so we can follow along with all the clues you find. The color process of diagonal lines is fascinating.

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    1. Thanks for the positive feedback Christine (and good to hear from you, I miss your daily postcards). It's always difficult to know how far to go, and naturally what is of interest to some, won't be to others, but I'm glad you found it interesting.

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  2. Good work! great fun and very interesting. You're not called Photo-Sleuth for nothing!

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    1. Well it's the blog that's called Photo-Sleuth, rather than me, but very kind of you, thanks Howard.

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  3. Great detective work, and very interesting. I was surprised to see glass plate negatives in colour.

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    1. Yes, me too. I had no idea they were part of the set when I purchased it, so it was a lucky find.

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  4. What a great set of slides and so full of detail. I love this bit of the Cornish coast, Land's End and St Ives in particular. I'm not so familiar with Newquay.

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    1. I visited Lands End as a child, but memories come from the photographs rather than the actual event.

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  5. Yes, indeed, aptly called the Sleuth. Really nice work. I feel like I am in a sleuthing seminar, presided over by the master. I dinna know a thing about 360 Cities, or that you could use Google Maps so effectively. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

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    1. Having Google Earth downloaded onto your desktop makes such a difference - it gives you access to plenty of usueful features which aren't available on Google Maps. I learn plenty through Sepia Saturday each week to - isn't that what it's all about?

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  6. I know I frequently use the term "fascinating" in commenting on Sepia Sat posts (and especially on yours), but this was the very essence of fascinating. The geological/scientific/geographical/historical detective work was of the highest quality. What was intriguing about the photographs was how late they were - the process seemed out of synch with the images that were being captured.

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    1. Yes, you're quite right, Alan. I could find few examples of, or references to, the Paget Process online, and none of them anything like as late as these. I'm formulating some theories about why this photographer was using such outdated processes (even the use of glass plates by an amateur was somewhat unusual, 50 years after roll film had become the medium of choice for amateurs) so late in the game, but further research into the remainder of the collection needs to take place before I'll be ready to come to any conclusions.

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  7. Hello Brett Payne .... I'm the new girl Jackie Payne !!! It's the first time I have linked to sepia Saturday so excuse me if I get this wrong . First I must say your name is the same as my husbands great grandad !
    The pictures you have on your post were very interesting to look at and you are so knowledgeable
    Jackie

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    1. Hi Jackie, and thanks for your comment. I presume you mean my first name, Brett? That woudl be unusual for the era that I would expect your husband's great-grandfather to have been from.

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  8. In my narrow experience, the world is a gentle and gradual progression from grass to street to sand and then the ocean. So it always amazes me to see these steep rocky cliffs.

    I like the "then and now" treatment of your post. I wish I could have done that with my canal, but I could find no historic photos to confirm the location.

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    1. Wendy - We have plenty of steep rocky cliffs here in New Zealand, but also the sandy beaches, which makes for an interesting coastline. I've long been intrigued by the idea of "then and now" photos. Even better is when you can find a whole series of the changing landscape. I used that treatment for a Derby view a few years ago, and managed to find 15 different views of the same scene stretching over 163 years from 1845 to 2008.

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  9. An absolutely excellent post and certainly a lot of work! That's why you are in my reading list!

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    1. Thank you anyjazz. Always good to have feedback from satisfied readers.

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  10. Oh These Are Stunning Photos.I am especially attracted to Harbour View A TheHustle & Bustle of Real Lives!A Wonderful Set!

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    1. Tony - That's my favourite view too, there's so much in it. I even thought for a moment it might have been taken by a professional photographer, but after some consideration I don't think so. I was tempted to spend even more time discussing that view, but it would have turned the post into a reading marathon.

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  11. You continue to amaze me with your knowledge.

    You definitely would have been successful as a detective too :)

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    1. Sharon - I'll look for an appropriate hat, shall I? Do you think I should go 'Sherlock'? I think I'd prefer a Humphrey Bogart style hat - a fedora?

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  12. I do enjoy the journey you provide for us. Amazing, and I feel like I just returned home, from a most enjoyable visit to the sea. Beautiful work again.

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    1. Karen - Thank you. Of course, I am inspired mostly by the contributions from the rest of the Saturday Sepians.

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  13. A great collection beautifully documented. Took me back to holidays in Cornwall.

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    1. Sue - For me it's an opportunity to fly to places that I've never been to, although Cornwall is actually one of the places that my parents took us in 1974, and is documented well in family photo albums.

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  14. I never knew about the diagonal color printing only colored dots. How very interesting. Also loved seeing the before and after shots of the harbour. It hasn't changed one bit.
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy - I spent some time wandering the streets of Newquay, albeit vicariously through Google's Streetview, and identified a lot of the same buildings that are just viisible in that last slide. Interesting how much of the landscape has perservered, although these views were taken only 60 years ago.

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  15. Brett, I also meant to ask if you had read the book THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD, a biography about the English geologist William Smith. I was enthralled-- and got much the same feeling of awe in your post as I did looking at Smith's maps.

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    1. Yes I have Joan. Now there was a man with a passion. Perhaps the book's title is a little over the top, but from humbe beginnings he certainly did have some incredible insights. I am in awe of a person who can think so much "out of the box" as William Smith did.

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  16. As I was going to St. Ives,
    I met a man with seven wives,
    Each wife had seven sacks,
    Each sack had seven cats,
    Each cat had seven kits:
    Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
    How many were there going to St. Ives?

    I may not know, but I do know someone who does!
    Well done!

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    1. OK I'm going to take the bait, Mike. Only one, of course.

      I was wondering how to work that into the story, but there's a limit to the number of distractions that one can allow one's self in the course of a Sepia Saturday contribution, so I'm glad that I could rely on you.

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  17. Now if you had been teaching me science, I might very well have been interested. Wonderful stuff as always. And thanks for the poem Mike :)

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    1. Thank you, that's very kind of you Alex.

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  18. Took me back to my first visit to West Cornwall last year - wonderful. I didn't recognise Newquay though - the seas were so wild the day we were there!

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    1. Fortunately for us, the stormy days weren't so good for taking successful photographs, particular ones on colour.

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  19. Another fascinating post. Your knowledge and your collection amaze me. I wonder if you will ever be stumped by the theme?? Of course you won't.

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    1. Thanks Liz - I have a varied collection, so can usually find an image or two to relate to some theme suggested by the image prompt, even if sometimes a little tangentially. My difficulty, however, is staying on track, and not getting distracted by the myriad of interesting threads of research that inevitably present themselves.

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  20. My grandsons surf at Newquay. I recognised it straight away. I keep meaning to go to St Ives - next time I'm down there perhaps. Thanks for leading by the hand through the photos, clue by clue.

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    1. Bob - Let us know if you find a cart carrying a boat load of fish, although I think it's unlikely. I read on a forum that you can't by fish off the boats in St Ives any more, you have to go to the shop in the eponymously named Fish Street, although most of the catch by St Ives fishermen is taken to Newlyn.

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  21. Your detective work and knowledge of photography is brilliant.

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    1. Thank you Diane, although I must admit I do a lot of reading and learning as I go.

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  22. Excellent post as always Brett. How do you go about scanning your glass slides? Perhaps it is my "vintage" scanner (an Epson 4870) but I have lost the ability to scan negatives and slides. I believe it is no longer supported by Apple, unfortunately.

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    1. Thanks whowerethey. I have an Epson Perfection V700 Photo, which can be used for both prints and transparentcies. It has a special "light-lid" with a special light that moves with the scanning arm, somewhat different from most of the other scanners I have seen for slides. It is capable of very high resolutions at very good quality and, even though a few years old now, is at the high end of the market for non-professional scanners. It costs a bit more but you know what they say, you get what you pay for!

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  23. Phew. Love your work Brett.

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    1. Thanks Lorraine. Was it a bit long?

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  24. Fabulous.
    Simply fabulous, Brett!

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    1. I thought they were too, Deb, thank you.

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  25. An amazing piece of detective work.

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    1. Thank you Diamant - your feedback is much appreciated.

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  26. One has to admire the good use of modern technology to reveal the secrets of the past. Well done!!
    Harbour view C seems to be my fave!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. View C is less "busy" but still has plenty of activity, yes. I must say I was very surprised when I enlarged it!

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  27. Hi Brett, great article, lovely images, and thanks for the link to my Paget plates! I have a correction though - as soon as I saw your close-up of the colour grid I knew it wasn't quite right for Paget. What I am pretty certain you have here are nice examples of Dufaycolor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dufaycolor). See http://sasesearch.brighton.ac.uk/glossary/dufay.php for a good example of the grid and http://ian-partridge.com/dufay.html for some nice images quite similar to yours. It would appear that it was available into the 1940s (http://www.luminous-lint.com/IaW/public/5/1/2/11/0/20/T/ states it was marketed until the late 1940s) but I presume use would have ended quite abruptly because, as far as I am aware, exposed film had to be sent back for development, not just taken to the local chemist or processed at home.

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    1. Thank you James for clarifying this matter and providing some links. I had read the Luminous Lint article, but hadn't found any examples of the diagonal colour grid. The late 1940s seems like a good date estimate.

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