A Few Of My Favourite Things : 13th Feb 23
100 Year Old Sepia Tinted Photos / Making Modernism / Studio News
Excuse the grubby tabletop, I didn’t notice until I uploaded the photos, but that’s not what’s important here, it’s the tiny sepia-tinted photo I’m holding flat because it’s trying to curl shyly away from the camera, unlike its subjects.
Pictured, front, is my Granny, when she was a teenager circa 1929/30. Not sure who the other girls are but friends or relations I imagine. I just love being able to see their happy faces beaming out from another century, all because someone somewhere invented a mechanical device encasing glass lenses designed to capture light and shadows on paper, with the addition of chemicals and a bit of technical know-how.
They are posed, but it’s very relaxed, unlike the stiff, starched family arrangements, posed in front of painted classical scenes, in the photographer’s studio just a decade before. This was the era when the Box Brownie first became affordable to working-class households. Now, when nearly everyone has a phone camera tucked in their pockets, it’s hard to appreciate how ultra-modern and exciting this must have been.
I don’t even know who this pair are, but they were in the same collection that came from my Granny’s house when it was being cleared out. They are so magnificently stylish and ready to take on the world! Obviously, in their Sunday best frocks, but they could be movie stars from the silent age. What goes around comes around though…and I would absolutely wear these dresses, silk stockings, and Mary Janes right now!
Contrast that with just one generation before. Here are my great, great Aunties, in full late Victorian attire. Can you feel their discomfort? How restricted their movement must have been…? The weight of it, the time it took to be acceptably dressed…? As well as the time and cost it would take to have these garments made, never mind how they were laundered in a world before the automatic washing machine.
What happened in a generation to cause such a fashion revolution? A few things spring to mind; the ‘Great’ War, meant women had to take up ‘mens’ jobs to keep the country and the war machine running. There were also new freedoms like riding a bicycle and exercising, all of which needed garments more suitable for body movement. Going to the cinema and reading magazines all about the latest movie stars, dance moves, and fashion trends became very popular, and just like now, everyone wanted to wear these looks themselves. It was easier to recreate these modern styles at home on a home sewing machine (probably a Singer) and advances in technology meant that new synthetic and knitted fabrics, plus zip fastenings became popular from the 1920s onwards….
But, back to the photos. I’m so glad to have these. They help me connect to the past and imagine what kind of people my relatives really were and how they lived. They help bring history alive and make me think about how changes in society affect my everyday life. For a time in the mid-nineties after several members of my extended family and my Dad had died I would regularly spend hours pouring over these old photos, as if getting to know them would somehow piece together what I perceived as my disintegrating family. From this distance I know it was just a natural part of grieving, but then it felt weird and morbid. The photos now live in a box on a high shelf in my bedroom. I won’t part with them and it’s a comfort knowing they’re there when I want them.
I toyed with making a flying visit to London, just to see this exhibition celebrating another group of women, living in the early 20th century but decided it would cost too much, and the thought of falling asleep on a stranger’s shoulder on an overnight bus from Edinburgh is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat.
It finished at the weekend so I’ve made do with following the Instagram hashtag and watching a tour on Youtube (below). If you’re interested in learning more there are a couple of very informative podcasts about Paula Modersohn-Becker and Kathe Kollwitz on The Great Women Artists by Katy Hessel.
This month I’m experimenting with digital drawing on my tablet, using an app called Concepts, which is similar to Procreate but for android. I’m sharing these daily drawings with a Facebook group 28 Drawings Later : Creativity Every Day In February!
I’m not thinking too hard about these drawings, just having fun and doing whatever pops into my head. So far I’ve done a copy of a painting by Hans Memlinc, a view from a cafe window, a weird face illustration, this portrait of my partner, Robb, and a digital collage…who knows what will come next.
Before I go, there’s an idea bubbling away for a collaborative creative mixed media art project to raise money for charity. If I was to supply the materials is there any interest from artists/makers willing to supply their talent and time for the greater good? Just wondering if there’s any interest at this stage…you’re not committing yourselves to anything, but please let me know and I’ll keep you informed when I’ve worked out the finer details.
I really didn’t mean it to be so long this week but I’ve enjoyed writing and I hope you've enjoyed reading. I’m so thankful to my subscribers for your interest and support. Please share with a friend who might be interested - I’d love to see this little community of readers grow!
Until next time, have a great week!
Oh, lovely post! I love old photos and family history. You are so lucky to have these - thanks for sharing them and your observations.
What lovely pictures. I wish I had something like that. I think I'll have to ask my parents if they have some old pictures somewhere. Although, maybe there was less photography in my family way back when. I think they were mostly farmers, probably unlikely to get near a camera. :-D
I wish I'd known about the Making Modern exhibition, it sounds very interesting. And as it happens I've started reading Katy Hessel's book The Story of Art Without Men which I can recommend.
P.S. It is sometimes possible to get good prices on train tickets between Edinburgh and London. The overnight bus may be cheap but it is no fun at all. Did it once and the return journey to Edinburgh with a crying baby on the bus was awful. :-|