Entries in photography (54)


Vintage Mementoes

Recently I bought some vintage items on Etsy, a pair of 1940s sunglasses, and a hat (actually one of a few!), but these two sellers used vintage photos for thank you cards. Aptly, the 1940s beach photo above came with the sunglasses.

Both the photos are very tiny, about 6cm wide, and there is only so much one can see with the naked eye. I didn’t notice at first, but the photo above is actually a square negative printed on rectangular paper. When I scanned it at 200% of actual size, I was able to pick out a bit more detail – I love seeing what’s going on in the background of vintage photos.

Her expression is a little pensive, looking away from the camera as though she is thinking of someone far away from her.

Here, there is a man’s hat sitting on a rock just behind the two young women, children running about perhaps playing a ballgame, and numerous people doing the kind of things you do at the beach. You can see the girl closer to the camera is much prettier, and her dress has scalloped sleeves and neckline, and she is wearing a polka dot sash. Her expression is a little pensive, looking away from the camera as though she is thinking of someone far away from her. The other woman is wearing a floral print, and both of them are holding sunglasses in their hands.

I always wonder about the people in such photos – what were they thinking at the moment the shutter snapped? Where are they now, or their descendents?

And who are the two Edwardian women wearing bowties? Mother and daughter perhaps? The woman in the polka dot tie has such weary, deep-sunken eyes and looks much older than the other. Look at the detailing on their dresses – so many pleats!

I love the old cardboard these photos are printed on. I’ve always been fond of those deckle-edged photos because I remember them from old family albums; I even own a pair of scissors that cut like that, but of course I never print photos anymore. The embossed Edwardian frame is perfectly lovely – I actually might get photos printed if you could order frames like that. It makes them seem far more special, real mementoes. I wonder if these women are remembered by someone.

Click images for larger versions.


A Beautiful Soul

Only very recently did I discover the ethereal work of Scottish photographer Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822–1865), via an Instagram page called VictorianDarlings.

For a moment they took my breath away, for there was something achingly poignant and tender about them: the soft natural light that gently bathed these young women and diffused into grand interiors, this glimpse of a woman’s exploration of her subject – her daughters, mostly – in the pioneering days of photography.

Produced by albumen prints from wet-collodian negatives, the most popular method in the mid 19th century, Hawarden’s photographs are like paintings, sumptuous and delicate at the same time.

Hawarden called her work ‘studies’, and she worked in natural light, unlike many of her contemporaries, using mirrors to distribute the light pouring into her interiors through huge windows or French doors. In largely empty rooms, she used props, mirrors, draped fabric and curtains, and clothing made up of both contemporary and costume dress to create exquisite portraits, and tableaux (a popular theme of the era) of her daughters.

Windows, an obvious and convenient source of light, become a framing device, and offer a glimpse of the balcony beyond; further off, the city becomes a blurred background.

Most of what is known about Hawarden must be gleaned from her work; some art critics have made suppositions about her themes, for instance, exploring sexuality and adolescence, subjects that bothered the Victorians; but that can only be guesswork, and dubious at that when viewed through a contemporary lens (no pun intended). She left no diaries, nor was there any accompanying archival material when the photographs were generously donated to the V&A Museum by her granddaughter in 1939. They were cut or torn from family albums – there is no explanation as to why, but my guess is stubborn glue! (Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one.)

I think Hawarden found a creative outlet that thrilled her – she produced her entire oeuvre (over 800 photographs) by painstaking method in only approximately seven years – and in an era when this art form was so new, above all she wanted to make beautiful pictures. Is that not enough without casting about for bogeymen? To me, the photographs speak for themselves – and of her beautiful soul.

Read more about Lady Clementina Hawarden and see more of her work at V&A Museum.

Images from V&A Museum, and Pinterest.


The Lost Photographer

The Lost Photographer :: Elijah Lens // Pearl Film // Yuletide FlashI am always keeping an eagle eye out for Lost Things, and really it is quite remarkable how many there are in my hometown of Melbourne.

I don’t know if Melburnians are simply more careless, or whether in other cities the custodians of tidiness are more zealous about picking up after people. Perhaps there are Committees for the Restoration of Lost Property to Rightful Owners? For recently two friends (and already sometime contributors) of mine were overseas, one in London, the other in Hong Kong, and both were on the lookout. But neither of them spotted anything in either of those two great cities! It’s a mystery.

The Lost Boater :: Elijah Lens // Pearl Film // Yuletide FlashHere I am in a Melbourne shopping mall, taking a picture of a Lost Boater, forlornly residing on a table. My brother-in-law snuck up behind me to take a picture of me wearing a boater while taking a picture of a boater – he thought that would be rather amusing.

I post daily on my Lost Collections Tumblr blog – there you can check out the myriad of lost things I’ve amassed over the years (I’ve been capturing them on Hipstamatic for six years).


Temple of the Winds

Salvador 84 Lens // Uchitel 20 Film // Yuletide FlashOn Sunday I went for a walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens, a few minutes walk from my home and which I fondly refer to as ‘my backyard’, and took this photograph of the Temple of the Winds.

The structure was created by William Guilfoyle, one of the directors of the Gardens from 1873 to 1909, and who is often described as “the master of landscaping”. The Temple overlooks the Yarra River and beyond to Melbourne’s sports grounds such as the MCG and tennis centre, and further eastwards, Richmond.

I took the photo with the iPhone 6 native camera app, and used the randomiser in Hipstamatic to create the sepia double exposure. I love to make modern photos look vintage, and I love the happy chance combinations made using the random button in the Hipstamatic app. You never know exactly what kind of double exposure the Salvador 84 lens will make, and the Yuletide flash in monochrome images has a lovely aging effect. The sepia film, Uchitel 20, also produces random spotting and foxing.

Although it’s not the same as analogue photography, it is a rare instance of serendipity in the digital age, as I mentioned in my previous story on Eugène Atget. While I was not trying to emulate his work, it did remind me of him.

Here’s to happy chance.


Windows to the Soul

Rue de la Viarmes cote de la rue VannesPeople say eyes are the window to the soul, but the camera’s eye is the window to the soul of a place, a time, a subject, as well as to the soul of the one who first looked through the viewfinder and chose what to photograph.

That is why I am mesmerised by old photographs; I am fascinated by history and the way people lived before us, what they thought and said. Of course still photography does not give as much information as video, but usually it is a distillation more poetic and poignant. It allows us as the viewer to pause and reflect, to hear the echo of the photograph within ourselves; to wonder and remember.

still photography … allows us as the viewer to pause and reflect, to hear the echo of the photograph within ourselves

Colour photography was first attempted in the 1840s – much longer ago than I imagined. Varying methods produced beautiful prints of washed out colour that certainly appeal to my personal aesthetic, but there is still something wonderful about antique sepia prints. There is a warmth and softness to sepia not found even in old black and white photographs. Sepia prints are created by applying a toner to black and white photographic prints. The metallic silver in a print is converted to a sulfide compound, and different processes result in variations of tone.

Versailles, coin de parc, 1902Born in Bordeaux, Eugène Atget (1857–1927) began practising photography in his 40s, after first working as a sailor in his youth, switching to acting (with indifferent success) and then briefly dabbling in painting. He finally found his métier and pursued it until his death. He was not experimental or progressive; he worked in techniques that were already old-fashioned – obviously because he liked the result. “He did however make photographs which for purity and intensity of vision have not been bettered.” (Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski)

Atget catalogued Parisian life and culture with simplicity, honesty and a clarity of vision that did not waver for thirty years. Szarkowski continues: “Atget's work is unique on two levels. He was the maker of a great visual catalogue of the fruits of French culture, as it survived in and near Paris in the first quarter of this century. He was in addition a photographer of such authority and originality that his work remains a benchmark against which much of the most sophisticated contemporary photography measures itself.”

Boulevard de Strasbourg, 1910I remember working in a darkroom in high school, and later in my parents’ blacked-out laundry over the summer (it got hot!). All the manual work of traditional photography was so satisfying: fiddling with an enlarger, dipping prints in chemicals, experimenting with all kinds of techniques to alter prints somehow, clipping the results up to dry. Now digital photographer seems so antiseptic! There are no wonderful surprises that are the result of chance.

Scroll through this small collection of Atget’s pictures, or visit the archive at Atget Photography.

Marchand de paniers en fil de fer, (merchant of wire baskets) 1899-1900Impasse des Bourdonnais, 1908Organ-grinder, 1898–99Boulevard de Strasbourg corsets, 1912Tuileries, l’Aurore 1907luxembourg, 1923-25Parc de Sceaux, 1925Parc de SceauxUntitled (link broken)