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?"

18 January, 2011

Lord and Lady Farnham on the Remuera in 1914?

Click on the picture for a larger view.

This photograph printed on postcard paper is a real puzzle. According to a hand written note on the back, the photograph shows Lord and Lady Farnham of Eire. The people in the picture do appear as if they could be on board an old ship, but just look at the area where they are sitting - hardly somewhere where you would expect to see a Lord and Lady! Perhaps the writer is just being funny? Some of the writing has been crossed through, but it has not been obliterated.

And then there are the dates: 1938 written at top left, and 1914 bottom right. I am inclined to think 1914 is accurate, and the voyages were numbered by the shipping company, so voyage 6 could have been added by someone researching the card in the past. There was a real Lord Farnham, Arthur Maxwell, an Irish Republican peer and ex-soldier who lived at Farnham, County Cavan, Eire. He would have been 35 years old in 1914. This image may be a photographic copy of a photograph or lantern slide because there is an area of black background around the picture area (see small original image below). The picture is also numbered, bottom right, with an “8”, indicating that it was part of a series.

If you can tell me anything at all about Lord Farnham that helps make sense of this photograph, please write a comment on this blog.

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