Showing posts with label old photographs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old photographs. Show all posts

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cold Comfort Farm

I have been working alone today and apart from the sound of occasional gunfire and neighing horses, it is disconcertingly quiet. The barn I work in usually creaks and groans, but now it is eerily silent, as if hibernating for the winter. I am sitting in a 20' by 10' garden shed, with two convector heaters on full power. I still feel cold.

The books are depressing me today. So many of them have clearly never been read and at times, it feels as if the whole publishing industry is founded on unwanted gifts. In the skip for new books are dozens of copies of the bestsellers of recent Christmases: Frankie Boyle's autobiography, a Top Gear annual, all of Dan Brown's ouevre and countless celebrity memoirs. Very few of them are well-thumbed.

During these silent afternoons of muted light and creeping coldness, I find it hard not to think about my own mortality. Dealing with the detritus of the recently deceased, I'm only too aware that one day it will be my books and photographs that will be turned into lampshades, packaging and road surfacing material.

I have asked people to start saving photos and albums, without telling them why and several things have arrived during the last week. The best was a collection of pictures of a Sussex family taken between 1927 and 1929.

None of the images are particularly remarkable, but what interests me is that they show a society in transition. The older generation - all born during the mid-Victorian age - don't appear to have change their style of dress at all. The photo below could have been taken any time in the late nineteenth century, except that the boy is holding a model plane:

As usual, there are no names, but the locations are all in Sussex. The people in these pictures, particularly the older ones, would probably have spoken with a strong rural burr that was quite different from today's sub-London accent. Click here and you'll hear a real Sussex accent.

The increasingly independent young women of the 1920s must have shocked their grandparents, who had seen their slowly-changing world completely torn apart by the First World War. It's not the past that's a foreign country, it's the future and if you live long enough, you'll be a stranger in a strange land.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Roaring Twenties

The 1920s might have roared for some people, but probably not for the subjects of a photo album I found yesterday:

Although I was born in the 1960s, this image feels very familiar to me. When I was a boy, there was a shoe shop in the road next to mine that had been opened by two brothers in the 1930s. It occupied the ground floors of two adjacent houses. One half contained a shoe repair workshop, where the brothers could usually be found; the other contained a showroom with countless boxes of shoes. I used to buy my Clarks Commandos there.

The workshop was like a time capsule. Nothing had been changed for 50 years and the fixture and fittings were all painted in a shade of brown that had probably become obsolete in 1949.

Even when the brothers were in their seventies, they continued to work, buffing leather shoes over ancient lathes. They finally retired in the early 1990s.

I love this idyllic photograph for so many reasons. It was about to be binned, so I'm very glad that it will now be seen by more people than ever.

I receive lots of old photograph albums at work. Many contain nothing more than snapshots which are of little interest to anyone; but the best have images that are either historically or artistically appealing. This photo may just be the work of an amateur who was having an 'artistic moment', but it doesn't deserve to be consigned to oblivion.

Is that graffiti? So much for the good old days.

This is a slightly creepy photograph: a man who looks like a waxwork dummy and a woman holding a doll. Very odd.

This is a bit of a Caspar David Friedrich scene, with the protagonist squaring up against the forces of nature.

This is a rare, naturalistic 'Monday is washday' scene. No Sunday best here.

A ridiculously large hat.

The first recorded sighting of a Kindle.

This is a very touching photo (assuming that rabbit stew was not on the menu).

This pensive pose is an early example of flash photography (look at the shadow in the background).

This Danny Kaye lookalike would have loved a full-blown Hammond organ. Perhaps he lived long enough to see one.

Finally, a picnic scene. The location and identity of these people will always be a mystery - I wish that I could transport myself back there, as they look as if they're having fun.

When I was 20, I met an elderly Welsh farmer on the outskirts of Lampeter. He looked at me and said "Ydych yn siarad Cymraeg?"I replied that I knew a little (I'd worked in a Welsh-speaking pub during the National Eisteddfod of Wales), but it would be a very limited conversation. He immediately switched to English and, like a man possessed, told me that I must sort out my photos:

"Write the names and dates on the back of all of your photographs. I've got albums and I don't know who they are. It's gone. Forgotten. I can't tell my sons who these people are. They're strangers. You need to write everything down."

I promised him that I wouldn't forget and I'm glad that the internet has given me the opportunity to repeat this man's sage advice.