Friday, 7 March 2014

Sepia Saturday 218: Portraits in the Backyard


Image collection of Brett Payne
Reverse of cabinet card by E. Bosotock, Photographer of Schools, & etc.

Erasmus Bostock worked as a photographer in Derby from the mid-1870s, when he was probably apprenticed to William Pearson, one of the town's earliest practitioners, then operating from a studio in St. Peter's Street. [1] In the late 1870s and early 1880s he had a brief partnership with a photographer named Carr, during which time they worked from a studio at number 8 Macklin Street. [2] He established then established an itinerant trade as a "photographer of schools" from c.1882, not the only local to visit schools, but apparently the only one in Derby who advertised it as a speciality. [3]

Over the following decade, he appears to have concentrated on this type of work: of the dozen or so examples of his work from this period that I have hitherto come across, only one is a conventional studio portrait. Between 1891 and 1894 Bostock moved with his family to nearby Nottingham, where he probably took over a studio from Edward Carnell and continued in business until his death in 1919. [4]

Image collection of Brett Payne
Informal cabinet card portrait of unidentified group
Taken by Erasmus Bosotock of Derby, c. mid-1880s

This informal portrait of what is assumed to be a family group taken by Bostock in a suburban backyard therefore departs a little from his usual fare, and is an important clue to how photographers coped with lean times. I have written previously [5,6] of opportunistic photographers who toured residential suburbs, probably during winter months when business was quiet, looking for potential customers who wanted their photos taken in front of their houses or in their gardens. Some of these professionals worked out of established studios, but many left no mark on their card mounts or, if they did, are not traceable through trade directories.

It is interesting, then, to find such a portrait taken by a photographer who, it has already been established, travelled into the residential suburbs and, we now know, was a "door knocker" when the occasion arose. A small tidbit of information about one of Derby's minor photographers it is, but it adds to the developing picture of the common practices in Victorian Britain.

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

For more backyard beauties visit the rest of this week's Sepia Saturday contributers.

References

[1] Payne, Brett (2009) All lined up in the school playground in their Sunday best, Photo-Sleuth, 18 October 2009.

[2] Payne, Brett (2006) Erasmus Foster Bostock of Macklin Street, Derby & Nottingham, Derbyshire Photographers' Profiles.

[3] Payne, Brett (2008) More photos from St James' Board School, Photo-Sleuth, 14 September 2008.

[4] Payne, Brett (2013) Sepia Saturday 176: Erasmus Bostock, Photographer of Schools &c., Photo-Sleuth, 11 May 2013.

[5] Payne, Brett (2008) The story behind the picture, Photo-Sleuth, 8 April 2008.

[6] Payne, Brett (2013) Sepia Saturday 163: A photographer at the front door, Photo-Sleuth, 7 February 2013.

32 comments:

  1. A photo which any family historian would be proud to own. thank you.

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    1. Indeed, boundforoz, although sadly this one has lost all its provenance and the identities of the people in the group will most likely never be known.

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  2. The family displays an interesting mix of "in the moment" with mother in her apron and "special occasion" with others dressed up with hats on. Whether Bostock intended to capture real life or merely put food on the table, it's good to see real people in a real backyard for a change.

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    1. I left out a discussion of the subjects, mainly because I was short of time, but partly for the reason that I couldn't really make up my mind whether the informality was intentional, or an accident as a result of inexperience. I'd like to think the former, but have to admit it's most likely the latter. Thanks for drawing my attention to it again.

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  3. I don't think I've seen such an early backyard portrait before.

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    1. I've seen earlier ones that are outdoors, but not absolutely identifiable as in the backyard.

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  4. Your description of a door-knocking photographer reminds me of the photographers that used to come around our neighborhood when I was growing up. Usually they had some attention-getting ploy like leading a pony. We have a picture of one of my sisters complete with fringed vest, chaps, & cowgirl hat sitting on a pony. Funny. Today, if such a photographer came around door-to-door we'd probably be suspicious & likely even call the police! Times change.

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    1. The ubiquitous digital camera and the selfie has put paid to all that. You'll have to share the photo of the cowboys and cowgirls some time. I had such a cowboy suit when I was small - I may even be able to dig up a photo somewhere.

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    2. There's a fun idea for a Sepia challenge! One of us should dig out one of those photos and submit it to Alan - grandparents, parents, siblings, ourselves as youngsters (or oldsters?) in cowboy or cowgirl outfits. I bet a lot of us have them somewhere.

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  5. Interesting. I wonder what it cost to get a professional photographer back then? How unusual to have such a casual pose. I love it.

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    1. Getting a photograph from an itinerant was substantially cheaper than visiting a studio, I'm sure. However, I've yet to see any compilation of photographers' prices over an extended period of time.

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  6. It's not just the group that is interesting. I wondered why there is a wire fence between the buildings and the grassed area.

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    1. I thought that might be a chicken run, Bob.

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  7. What a charming group. The little ones are adorable in their hats, all dressed up, I'm surprised not one of the women are wearing one. I also wondered what might be kept behind the wired fencing. Possibly chickens or maybe even bunnies!

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    1. Yes, my thoughts too. My father kept rabbits when he was young, although a few decades after this photo was taken.

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  8. Charming photo. I was intrigued by the girl on the far right -- pensive and a bit set apart in spirit. Thanks for the photo and the discussion of Bostock.

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    1. Yes, Joan, me too. I came to the conclusion that, while the other two young women were probably sisters, she has a very different look about her. I think these are the children of at least two families, perhaps a small play group.

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  9. Charles Dickens couldn't have come up with a better name for a Victorian photographer than Erasmus F. Bostock. It almost invents stories.

    The chicken/rabbit run and the small garden makes the scene very domestic instead of placing the women and children in a park for the photo. Of course for a stroll in the park they would have to dress formally, or at least wear hats, while here they can be more casual. I think the woman on the right being without apron must be the lady of this house, while the other women are domestic nurses but possibly from neighboring households.

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    1. Yes you could well be right about the lady of the house, but that's still a lot of very small children to all have come from the same mother.

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  10. What a pity we’ll never know who is who in this photograph, and can only conjecture. Whatever is happening it’s a charming informal scene. I wondered who would be first to mention the name and Mike beat me to it.

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    1. The dynamics of the group are very interesting.

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  11. I think it's so much nicer than the posed photos where everyone is standing in a row.

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    1. Indeed Jackie. You would think that a schools photographer might be inclined to have everyone regimented according to name, age and height, but this one is delightfully informal.

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  12. A fine old photograph. The lack of hats is probably at the request of the photographer; Shades the face too much causing loss of detail. You will notice that in many old photographs that if the subject is wearing a hat at all, it is pushed far back on the head so the face will be fully lit.

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    1. Hadn't thought of that, anyjazz, although the presence of a broad-brimmed hat on one girl's head, and the lack of any hats on the ground, might suggest otherwise.

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  13. Hi Brett - I'm thinking that the woman on the far right is not related to the women in the centre, who might be mother and daughter. I wonder too if and how the children are related.

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    1. Yes, I thought that might be the case too. A couple of those children look awfully close in age.

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  14. They did well to keep the two babies still enough! It's a fascinating photo when you really look at the details like the hair styles, the stool in the background, the attempt at a garden, the duplicate walls so close together, the buttresses on the wall etc.

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    1. Yes, plenty to see here, and I'm afraid I barely scratched the surface in my analysis, as I was concentrating on the photographer. Thanks for visiting.

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  15. Since everyone else is giving their ideas of the group relationships, I thought I would join in. My take is that the adult women are sisters and the two on the left who look very much alike are married with families. The children are sitting near their mother. The youngest two children are way too close to come from the same mother. The woman on the left is unmarried and so is not wearing "housewife" clothing. Maybe her pensiveness is because she finds that situation uncomfortable. I don't think the lady of the house would sit on the grass with her servants nor would the servants have their children with them. Oh well, just another opinion.

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    1. Thank you Margel for your insightful interpretation. I think I agree with all your deductions, although I wonder if the woman on the right is perhaps a sister-in-law, since she looks so very different.

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