Saturday, 21 December 2013

Sepia Saturday 208: An early call for Father Christmas

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett, Marilyn Brindley and Kat Mortensen

Among the same set of lantern slides which I have featured previously in two previous Sepia Saturday posts (A Return Trip to Dovedale and Ready with the Bulls-Eye) is this pair of group images. I estimated the other photographs in the collection to have been taken c.1900 to 1910, and identified at least one, and possibly two, of them as having been taken in Derbyshire.

The first is a semi-formal group portrait of 17 women who appear to be dressed as maids or house servants. However something about the uniformity of their mob caps suggests to me that they may be dressed for some kind of play, pantomime or variety performance, rather than being employees in a very grand house. I guess that the house would have to be a lot bigger than Downton Abbey to have that number of youngish female servants in residence.

Whether these 34 children and their teacher (top right) have just attended a pantomime performance or a party is not clear, but the presence of a visitor from the North Pole (top left) places the event very firmly in December. The development of Santa's image as a plump, jovial, white-haired and bearded elderly man dressed in red with white fur trim largely happened in North America in the late 1800s (with the not inconsiderable help of caricaturist Thomas Nast), and then underwent a reverse migration back to Europe. Given that this image was probably taken in the United Kingdom in the first decade of the twentieth century, I think it must be a very early representation of Father Christmas. He wears a mob cap, rather than the now standard long, floppy pointed cap, but is otherwise much as we see him today.

"Merry Old Santa Claus," by Thomas Nast
from Harper's Weekly, 1 Jan 1881

That's all I have for Saturday Sepians this week. Have a great Christmas holiday and we'll see you again in the New Year. In the interim, if you're in need of some light entertainment, check out the other sepian contributions.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Shades of the Departed Magazine: Toys

Shades of the Departed Magazine: Toys Issue

The latest issue of Shades of the Departed Magazine is out, and I'm very pleased to have a contribution of mine included, covering the subject of toys used as studio props.

Shades of the Departed Magazine: Toys Issue
Watch The Birdie
Toys Used As Accessories In Photographic Studios

Shades of the Departed is a free digital online magazine catering for those with a fascination for old photographs. The brainchild and creation of footnoteMaven, who has blogged about old photos since 2007 the magazine first appeared in November 2009. Fourteen issues since then have covered a wide range of themes, from weighty matters such as the Civil War and politics through lighter topics such as the Wild West, occupational and wedding photographs to the downright morbid with Memento Mori. Back issues are available at the Shades Of The Departed Archive.

Contributers in this edition include fM herself and well known geneabloggers Sheri Fenley, Denise Levenick, Craig Manson, Denise Barrett Olson, Caroline Pointer, Janine Smith and Maureen Taylor. I'm honoured to be in such illustrious company and look forward to reading the articles myself.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Sepia Saturday 207: Happy Days at Blackpool

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett, Marilyn Brindley and Kat Mortensen

I'm back after a fifteen week break from Sepia Saturday, during which time I visited England, France, Spain and California, and walked the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim route stretching for just under a thousand kilometres across northern Spain, from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre. I was also delighted to meet and spend a day getting to know charming and genial fellow Sepians Little Nell and Caminante. Marilyn wrote of our exploring the enchanting city of Burgos together in Beguiled by Burgos. I'm very grateful that she and John went somewhat out of their way to facilitate this very successful meeting of like minds, and hope that we can do it again some time, somewhere.

Writing an article or two about the trip, which may include a few carefully selected photographs from my walk through historic northern Spain, will have to wait for when I have more time. This week I'd like to share some more images from a collection of glass plate and sheet film negatives that I've featured before here on Photo-Sleuth: SS179: Fun on the Sands - The Pleasure Palaces of Southport and SS188: The Cornwall Coast in Colour. The first of these two articles dealt with photographs taken by an amateur photographer during a visit to Southport, Lancashire, probably in 1913 or 1914.

It was on a similar trip, probably at around the same time, that the photographer took several scenes of the seaside attractions of Blackpool. It may even have been during the same trip; he or she might have taken a passage there on one of the steam boats from the end of Southport Pier. There are five negatives of views identified as from Blackpool, three of which I've included here.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Central Pier, Tower and Ferris Wheel, Blackpool, c.1913-1914
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This negative shows evidence of "in camera" light leakage or over-exposure along the left hand edge, and is suffering the ravages of time in the form of oxidation or silvering of the photographic emulsion, but the main part of the image is still in good condition. The view is of the Central Pier with the Blackpool Tower, theatre building, Ferris Wheel and Promenade from left to right, taken at low tide from a point on the beach a couple of hundred metres south of the pier.

I don't yet know who the photographer was, but he or she was no slouch when it came to recording holiday trips. By the second decade of the twentieth century, not only were there cheaper and easier roll film cameras (box and folding) available, rather than the fiddly plate or cartridge-backed model he used, but this was also the heyday of the picture postcard. The selection included in the slideshow above are typical of the large range of views which were readily available for visitors to purchase, and give a good impression the wide variety of activities available at the Blackpool waterfront.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Rainbow Wheel, Scenic Railway & Helter Skelter Lighthouse, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, c.1913-1914
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

In this large collection there are also two negatives depicting illuminated night scenes. Using postcards from that era, both are identifiable as having been taken at Pleasure Beach in Blackpool. I previously wrote about Charles Howell operating a photographic studio at Pleasure Beach between the two World Wars. Pictured in the negatives are a Rainbow Wheel, the Scenic Railway, the Helter Skelter Lighthouse (all above) and the Casino (below).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Casino, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, c.1913-1914
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

A series of contemporary postcards shows the same attractions, both by day and by night. In 1879 Blackpool became the first municipality in the world to have electric street lights installed, along the Promenade. The accompanying pageants were the forerunner of the town's famous Illuminations.

Fun on the Sands, 1914

I've also found several silent movie clips from 1914, 1926 and 1934 which give a very good feel for the various attractions on Blackpool's waterfront. The first clip, Fun on the Sands, includes the Senic Railway ride and a panning shot of the Rainbow Wheel, built in 1912, and the Helter Skelter Lighthouse. For further details of the rides and other attractions, click through the links to the YouTube web site.

Happy Days at Blackpool 1926 (Part 1)

Happy Days at Blackpool 1926 (Part 2)

Blackpool Illuminations 1934

This brings me to a small request to fellow Saturday Sepians and other regular readers of this blog. I am have started a small project studying seaside photography in Blackpool, and am looking for as wide a variety of seaside portraits as I can find. If you have any in your family or personal collections that you'd care to share, I would very much appreciate scans of them, please.

In particular, I'm looking for the following types of photographs:

  • any early daguerreotypes, ambrotypes or tintypes taken in Blackpool
  • formal portraits from any of Blackpool's numerous studios, from the 1840s/1850s through to the present day, including ambrotypes, tintypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, postcards and a variety of paper print formats
  • portraits taken by itinerant beach photographers, of relaxing on the beach, playing games or riding the ever present donkeys
  • walking pictures, also known as "walkies," taken by professional street photographers, perhaps taken along the Promenade or elsewhere in Blackpool
  • amateur photographs taken on or near to Blackpool's piers or beaches, particularly those with recognisable landmarks in the background, such as one of the piers, the tower, or fairground attractions.
They don't have to be wonderful quality - there are several other aspects of the photographs that I'm interested in, more than having spectacular examples of the genre. Permission would of course be sought if I wanted to use any of the images online or in a publication, and all such use would be fully acknowledged. If you have any photos that you think might be of interest, please leave a comment below with contact details or email me.

For more sepian delights I can recommend a visit to the remainder of this week's Sepia Saturday contributers.
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