Friday, July 21, 2017

On The Half-Life Of Houses

There is just too much going on at the moment. There is little time to think, little time to read, less time to write. There is just about enough time to stand outside the house and have a photograph taken. So to mark time during these busy summer weeks, here is a series of twenty people standing outside their houses.


Different objects mark time in different ways. Music becomes old with all the spinning speed of an old 78rpm record. Books take longer to age, but eventually they tire of being modern novels and age into classics. Houses have a longer half-life: look at this bungalow today - in bright colour and with plastic bins by the door and cars lining the drive - and you would still call it modern. But this photograph must have been taken eighty years ago and this young girl must now be grown very old indeed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sepia Saturday 376 : The Upside Down Life Of George

It may be a little late in the day, but perhaps we should put the flags out to celebrate the fact that I have managed a Sepia Saturday post at all, after a week of carpet fitters, carpet cleaners, floor installers, dishwasher repairers and dog groomers. And hanging the flags out would be a most suitable response to our Sepia Saturday prompt image for this week (OK, last week) which featured the celebratory flags being flown to mark the opening of a new sports pavilion.

I think I have managed to get a good match with this early twentieth century real photographic postcard of the pavilion and bowling green at Dalbeattie. the card was part of the collection passed down to me by my great uncle Fowler Beanland. It was sent to him at his address in Swan Street, Longtown in Cumberland and therefore must date from the early years of the first decade of the century when he was living and working there. He had moved there in 1904 from his home town of Keighley following the small textile machine manufacturing business he owned with his father and his brothers going into receivership. At the time he would have been 32 years old.

The card comes from "George" whom we must assume was a friend and one-time fellow worker. As far as I can make out, the message is as follows:-

Dear Fowler,
I thought this card would suit you, I was down there tonight. They close at the end of this month. I have been kept busy here working until 8 every night and it was 11 last night. We are very busy. Perhaps I will find time to write you a letter and then I can tell you the news, say day to day every fortnight - had a day overtime and it made a full week for me. How is the clip ties going on now. Hope you are well, remember to my friends.
From George.
At the top is written a postscript:-
(I am lodging with the boss)

All that is relatively straight forward, but there is another message, written upside down between the first few lines. As far as I can make out this says:
"ten of us work here. it is 9.50. love looking around the shop for the nights"

Whatever that means I have no idea at all, but it is fun to speculate. Whatever the answer may be, it does illustrate the rather strange upside down life of Fowlers' friend George.

For more Sepia Saturday posts, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Cloth-Cap Day

For want of something better to do, I am gathering together a small collection of my old black and white photographs for a slim, self-published volume. Those who manage to annoy me over the next month or two will be presented with a copy for Christmas - so be careful. This is the first page -

THE BEACH AT SKEGNESS (1980) : The children brave the water; that's what children always do. Those with more experience of life, more knowledge of how the North Sea can siphon-up the chill of winter; they keep their hands firmly in their pockets. It's a cloth-cap outing, it's wool-jacket weather, it's a hands-in-pockets day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An Early Example Of Photoshopping For A Biscuit Tin

I've been colourising again! My starting image is another glass negative from the batch I bought a couple of weeks ago. By just holding the glass up to the light it was a little unclear what the image was, but after a good high-quality scan and a digital wash and brush-up, what appears is a quite charming Victorian photograph of a woman and a child with a hoop.  Why anyone believed that they could improve on this image I can't understand, but I handed the digital scan over to a mate of mine (a certain Pierre-Auguste Renoir) to see what he could do with it.

The result is quite cute, but perhaps a little gaudy. He has added too much blue to her dress and got rid of the poor mother entirely! Amusing as it is, I can't see the colourful result stand the test of time. It looks more like a biscuit-tin than a serious attempt at photographic art.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gladys And The Other Woman

My father must have taken this picture in the early 1930s. That is my mother, Gladys, sat there on the left, looking so pale she almost leaches into the white limestone boulders. But who is the woman on the right, snapped up by the greedy camera lens? It could, of course, be nothing more than a case of inaccurate framing (this was the age of tiny viewfinders and painfully slow lenses, after all). It could be a shot that ranks up there with the steeple growing out of Uncle Frank's head or the case of Auntie Annie's missing legs. It could be.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Who Could Possibly Want To Buy A Boot For Their Car?

This is a series of three photographs I took yesterday at the weekly North Bridge Car Boot Sale in Halifax.. North Bridge is the Victorian iron and stone bridge that was built in 1871 to span the valley of the River Hebble. It is solid and rather proper, doing the job it was created for with a minimum of fuss, rather like some corseted Victorian great-aunt. By comparison the concrete pillars of Burdock Way - which was opened in 1973 - strut their way across the valley like a disco-dancer in platform heels. Each week, within the shadow of these two fine structures, dozens of people set up stalls selling everything that is cheap and occasionally cheerful. And the Victorian aunt looks down on all the activity, scratches her wrought-iron bolts and murmurs "who could possibly want to buy a boot for their car?"

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sepia Saturday 365 : Diving Into A Too Blue Sea

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows a brave swimmer about to dive into what appears to be a cold sepia lake. Even on a globally-warmed summer's day, the prospect is enough to send a shiver down my spine, so I stayed indoors instead and searched through my ever-growing collection of old and unwanted photographs in order to find something that fit the bill. I eventually found a small, old faded photograph of five men in a boat along with a sixth man who is already in, what appears to be, an equally cold sea.

On a whim - and because it is the kind of thing that you can do when you are retired and trying to avoid mowing the lawn - I decided to see whether I could make the sea a little more inviting. There was an App which claimed to automatically "colourise" monochrome prints that I had been meaning to try for some time, so I subjected my little grey print as an experimental offering. The result (see below) was quite good - it reminded me a little of those early twentieth century "colourised" picture postcards where blocks of slightly inaccurate colour appear to have been applied by a pig-bristle brush. There were, however, two drawbacks to this approach to turning the sea blue: the process reduced the size of the original image to a scale fit only for a mobile phone, and - more importantly - you had to pay 10 pence for the magical transformation.

Being a Yorkshireman, I quickly moved on to a second approach and that was attempting to colourise the image myself by inexpertly manipulating various brushes, layers and filters in Photoshop. The result (see below) was not too dissimilar to the App conversion, except that it retained the original size of the image and cost 10 pence less. Perhaps I should practice more, because it must be said that there is something not quite right about the results I achieved. The sea is a little too blue, a little too inviting. It might work for Malibu Beach, but not for Cleethorpes.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Stained Memories Of The Hotel Du Midi

When you are scanning old prints, there is always the chance that you will discover some detail hidden deep within the faded sepia layers of a photograph taken a hundred years or more ago. When you are scanning old glass negatives, the potential for discovery is so much greater, but such discoveries do not always enhance the image. 

This is a scan of a half-plate glass negative - the first of a set of four I bought recently. It is a group gathered outside a hotel - the Hotel Du Midi - in what looks like the late nineteenth century. It is by no means at all, a perfect image: it is blurred, it is cock-eyed and it is badly stained by some chemical substance or other.

There are, however, still delights hidden away within the silver salts. Shapes and features shout out questions with all the power of a megaphone. What was the gathering? Why are some of the participants dressed like rather grand domestic servants whilst others look like something out of Central Casting on a bad day?

I did a quick Google search for "Hotel Du Midi" and, of course, came up with a list as long as a baguette. Even when you take into account the ageing process and the stains, I can't see our Hotel Du Midi in Paris or Nice or Geneva. Our hotel was tucked away up some provincial cock-eyed road, stained into our memories. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Walking Backwards : A Hot Day In York

Walking Backwards : 

It is possible to think of each old photograph as a step into history. If it is a photograph of unknown people in unknown places, it is, by definition, a step into the unknown with all the uncertainty and potential for excitement that implies. If it is a photograph you are familiar with - or better still, a photograph you took decades ago - it is a step into more familiar territory, rich in clues to memories that have long been in a state of hibernation. If it is a strip of negatives (photographs that are linked together by celluloid certainty) it is not a step, but a walk through history. Scanning a long forgotten strip of negatives from forty or fifty years ago is like walking backwards through time and one of my favourite occupations.

A Hot Day In York

It was a hot day in York, many years ago. I suspect it was sometime in the 1980s - the fashions and the cars look right for that period. I can vaguely remember walking around the streets, camera in hand, looking for photographs, but the memory is as hazy as the heat rising from the warm stone sets. The narrow streets were as busy as they always are in York, but this would have been the era before shopping malls and retail parks. People were drawn to the central shops, drawn to the river bank, drawn to the street entertainers, and drawn to a cooling pint or two.


Monday, July 03, 2017

Life In The Blink Of A SIM Card

We see ourselves in two ways - I am talking about our physical selves rather than the realms of psychological insight - either through the looking glass or in photographs. Through the looking glass is, like the world of Alice, strongly influenced by our imagination - how many of us go through a routine of squinting or posing from some long familiar angle in order to see ourselves in our perceived best way? Photographs, on the other hand, tell fewer lies. This meant that one hundred years ago there were a limited number of opportunities to be captured for posterity - the occasional trip to the local photography studio or a gathering of friends and family posing for the definitive group photograph. Once taken, that was it: that was the "you" that would be shared by friends and family across the generations.

These days things are very different indeed. In the age of the selfie and costless digital photographs, we can sift and edit until we find the shot that best represents our imagined self. Inevitably such selfies will be complete with smiling faces, having a wonderful time in some exciting venue.

Such thoughts were stimulated the other day by two unrelated experiences. An old Edwardian portrait fell through the letterbox showing a group of young people captured for ever - complete with frowns and cares and unflattering angles. I have no idea who they are, but that doesn't matter. The photograph represents a moment in history which is unique. Later that day I found myself at an event called "Monkeyfest" which was full of very loud music, very good beers and far too many people of a third of my age or less. When not bouncing around in time to some pulsating loud beat, they were taking selfies of themselves having a good time. Selfie after selfie after selfie - selecting the ones they liked the best and deleting the rest. I am quite sure that the people in the Edwardian photograph would have liked such an opportunity to fine-tune their image, but they were stuck with the one take. Their consolation is that, over a century later, we are still able to revisit that day and that sepia photograph. Sadly, the Monkeyfest photos will be lost for ever in the blink of a SIM card.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hot And Cold And All Over The Place

Scanned Found Print - "Dumere Bay, August 1926" : Three Unknown People - Three Unknown Hats

It's hot. Summer has been going on for three days now and already it is too long. I miss the raw wind sweeping down from the tops, the grey drizzle, the clinging clouds. It is too hot to think.

I still have a cold. It seems to have been going on longer than Brexit, longer than history. It has infected parts of me that other colds have never infected. It originated, I suspect, in a laboratory in  North Korea.

For the next couple of weeks we are going to be all over the place. Here, there and on the Welsh border. I will try and post the occasional picture, either on here or on Facebook. But, if not, no News From Nowhere is good News From Nowhere.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sepia Saturday 372 : Thanks For The Can, Dickie and Nelly

It is not that often that you get the opportunity to match a Sepia Saturday theme image with exactly the same image. It is the kind of special opportunity that should be limited to birthdays and high holidays and, to the best of my knowledge, today isn't a high holiday. But it is the birthday of the little lad in the image and therefore I get the opportunity to refresh my imagination with the sweet waters of nostalgia. 

In other words, I get to tell you how this is a picture of me aged five watering a patch of garden that had been allocated to me when we moved into our new house in Northowram, a few miles north of Halifax. The year will have been 1953 and my father was still in the process of turning what had been half a field and half a building site into a garden. That wonderful Yorkshire dry stone wall was an original feature, dividing the field that had been used to build a new group of semi-detached houses from the neighbouring fields which still had the occasional cow in it. The smaller wall in front of the little terraced garden had been built by my father - no doubt with the help of my brother - from stones that had been rescued from the fields and quarries around where we lived.

The watering can was a birthday gift from our new next-door neighbours - Dickie and Nelly Somethingorother - who were keen to instil a love of gardening in my young mind in the belief that it would lead to a long, satisfied and sober life. Looking back from the perspective of sixty-four years later, I can assure them that it has been satisfyingly long and most enjoyably far from sober.

See what memories other sepians have managed to grow this week by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Walking Backwards : Pier 39, The East Coast's Brightest Nite Spot

I am lucky enough to have been to Pier 39. I have wandered through the Fisherman's Wharf district, dodged tramcars on The Embarcadero, and watched Californian sea lions haul themselves out of the waters of San Francisco Bay. I have also - as this strip of negatives from thirty years ago clearly shows - visited that less well known Pier 39 in Cleethorpes.

To save the embarrassment of comparison, the Cleethorpes pier is not called Pier 39 any more: but it is still there, it still juts out into the North Sea like a bantamweight boxer jabbing a heavyweight. There is still a big wheel, but in the thirty years since these photographs were taken it appears to have shrunk. It is years since I have been to the resort but there must be ice cream and fish and chips and buckets and spades and all those things that go to make up such seaside resorts. And there must be colour, although I can't imagine it.

To me the place will always have a monochrome feel to it: a patina of black and white and whelks. My mother met my father in Cleethorpes 80 years ago when the world was still seen in scales of grey. I walked the streets of Cleethorpes 30 years ago whilst the last of my hearing evaporated from my life and I tried to fill the void with black and white images. Perhaps I will head back there to see if the colours will shine in the sun.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Empty, Sad, Beerless And Skittle-Free

This is a scan of a negative I must have taken back in 1972. I can just about remember taking it - I would have been walking from Stoke-on-Trent station towards Newcastle-Under-Lyme, down Shelton Old Road. The pub on the left was the Cliff Vale Inn, the kind of nineteenth century alehouse that was so common to northern industrial towns. At one time it boasted "a splendid covered-in Skittle Alley", but that had long gone by the time I knew the pub in the 1970s. Sadly, it is not the Skittle Alley alone that is long gone, the pub itself closed several years ago. The building still remains - just about - but it is empty, sad, beerless and skittle-free.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Walking Backwards : Celluloid Scotland - The Land Of Grainy Dreams

These photographs are taken from a group of negatives which, I suspect, were the last negatives I ever took and that would place them around 1999 or there abouts. I made the transition to digital photography very early and by then I had been using digital cameras for many years, but on a trip to the highlands of Scotland I decided to get my old film camera out and give celluloid photography a final outing. Thus armed with a few cassettes of monochrome film, I took a train up to Inverness, Kingussie and Dundee, and these dark and moody shots were the outcome. I must confess that, even now, nostalgia prompts me to dig out my old film camera and even check out suppliers of 35mm film. There is something about the physical act of loading the film and moving it on which, I suspect, reminds me of youth.

But, of course, I don't. It's too heavy, cumbersome, slow and restrictive. I reach for whatever trillion megapixel postage-stamp sized camera I am using at the time and consign celluloid to the land of dreams. The dark, grainy, evocative land of celluloid dreams.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

There Is Something About A Hat

UNKNOWN MAN : Wartnall Portrait, The Pictorial Photo Publishing Co.
There is something about a hat. It's a balance thing. Imagine the studio portrait above (part of a box full of unknown and unloved old photos I acquired) without the hat. The head would be like a pointy afterthought to the body, as satisfying as the chocolate apex of a Toblerone bar. The hat adds gravitas, keeps the rain out of your ears, and gives you somewhere safe to keep your pensioners' travel pass. There is indeed something about a hat

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Trees And The Titanic (Sepia Saturday 370)

I have spent most of the day rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic - which is a good description of the process of tidying my room. The drive to undertake such a task is stimulated by a variety of factors - my man-flu inspired recognition of mortality, the impending arrival of a rubbish skip, and the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to, and egress from, the room. The process involves moving piles of books, papers, old photographs, and miscellaneous detritus from one location to another, in the vague hope that a small percentage can be consigned to the rubbish bin. I have to confess that I occasionally dream that I have discovered an unknown room in our house, a room so empty it demands to by filled by row after row, stack upon stack, of large plastic boxes. I can consign everything I own - books, papers, gadgets, pens, stickers, copper coins from British East Africa, the odd annoying relative - into such boxes and lay them to rest in that room. I would then take one box out at a time, bring it to my room (which, of course, would be as clean and uncluttered as a Pathologist's dissection room), and examine each object at leisure. I could roll the East African Shilling around in my hand and feel its satisfying weight, I could re-read The Name of the Rose, rediscover the joys of my electric pencil sharpener, and have a satisfying conversation with Cousin Stanley.

In mid-sort, I remembered that I hadn't posted my Sepia Saturday submission this week. I am sure that I have a perfect match for the theme somewhere, but given the current state of the Titanic deckchairs, I will have to go with a couple of old shots of mine which feature trees. The first photograph is of someone felling a tree - but for the life of me I can't remember who it was! I am normally fairly good at remembering photographs I too forty or fifty years ago - whilst at the same time not being able to remember what time I arranged to meet my wife at the shops - but on this occasion I am at a loss. I can only hope that the tree-feller was a friend of mine who is still around and my well find this photograph after doing a Google search for "pictures of me when I was young and used to chop trees down". In which case I invite them to drop me a line and let me know how they are going on.

I know exactly where my second photograph was taken - it was the junction of Briggate and Saddleworth Road in Elland, West Yorkshire. It shows an old mill chimney which, at some time, has been truncated for safety reasons. I assume the tree has grown at the top of the chimney, but I can't seem to get rid of the thought that within the remaining chimney a tall tree trunk grows.


Friday, June 02, 2017

I've Not Been At My Best This Week : Musings On A Spanish Crematorium

I've not been at my best this week - I've had a serious case of "man-flu". According to my Good Lady Wife, I have been "a brave little soldier", but, as the years pass by, such attacks of outrageous misfortune seem to take an increasing toll on my natural joie de vivre. As I lay there, in danger of drowning in my own nasal secretions, I couldn't help thinking of the decorative freeze I saw on the side of a municipal crematorium during my recent visit to Spain. It depicts a line of elderly and disabled figures making their way towards a central black tunnel entrance, which, I assume, represents the crematorium furnace! If you look closely, you might just see that the old chap with the walking stick seems to have a runny nose!

Crematorio Marina Alta Denia, Valencia, Spain