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?"

14 December, 2010

Steaming to New Zealand on the Ruahine, c.1891

Click to enlarge
This Cabinet photograph shows the New Zealand Shipping Company's RMS Ruahine.  The ship was built by Wm. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton, and launched in 1891.  In 1900 she was sold to Compagnia Trasatlantica, Bilbao, Spain and renamed Antonio Lopez.  This photograph, therefore, must have been taken between 1891 and 1900.  Further information can be found here.

Original photograph:

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