Because I've always felt a wonder at old photographs not easy to explain. Maybe I don't need to explain; maybe you'll recognize what I mean. I mean the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door.

The wonder is even stronger with old stereoscopic views - the almost, but not quite, identical pair of photographs mounted side by side on stiff cardboard, that, looked at through the viewer, give a miraculous effect of depth. It's never been a mystery to me why the whole country was once crazy about them. Because the good ones, the really clear sharp photographs, are so real: Insert a view, slide it into focus, and the old scene leaps out at you, astonishingly three-dimensional. And then, for me, the awe becomes intense. Because now you really see the arrested moment, so actual it seems that if you watch intently, the life caught here must continue. That the raised horse's hoof so startlingly distinct in the foreground must move down to the solidness of pavement below it again; those carriage wheels revolve, the girl walk closer, the man move on out of the scene. The feeling that the tantalizing reality of the vanished moment might somehow be seized - that if you watch long enough you might detect that first nearly imperceptible movement - is the answer to the question Kate has asked me more than once: "How can you sit there so long--you hardly move! - staring endlessly at the very same picture?"

16 December, 2010

On board the "Remuera" c.1914

This photograph has a postcard back and was purchased with several others of the New Zealand Shipping Company's "Remuera". I believe it was taken between 1911 and 1915 because I have other photographs which are similar in appearance that are dated 1914.
Click to enlarge
I would really like to know what readers of this blog think about the man on the left, with his hand up on the wall. Is he wearing a uniform of some kind? Could it be the uniform that a barber working for the New Zealand Shipping Company would wear? If so, then there is a very slight chance that the man is Henry George Keyse . . . this, of course, is a wild shot in the dark! But stranger things have happened, and I just have a feeling about him.

Henry Keyse was regularly on the Remuera where he was paid a retainer by the Shipping Company. He made his living cutting hair and also by selling souvenirs to passengers. He was, I believe, an amateur photographer, selling many of his photographs as postcards for the passengers to use. His photographic postcards show views of Icebergs at sea (1914), of the Panama Canal (after 1916) and also of Pitcairn Island and the Islanders. Many of his photographs have a hand written caption on the lower front of the card together with his initials "HGK". These postcards fetch high prices on eBay; anything from £15 to £90 or more.

1 comment:

  1. I have now discovered that the man in the photograph is not Henry George Keyse. Since posting this blog entry I have been able to find a photograph of Henry which has been added to my new HGK website here: