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?"

29 August, 2014

Brighton Photographer "B" - Louis BERTIN



This CDV, photographed "from life" by Louis Bertin shows Mr (later Sir) Charles Wyndham, the famous actor, surgeon and later founder of London's Wyndham Theatre.

He has a fascinating biography which can be read on Wikipedia (click here), highlights of which include the fact that he volunteered to become a brigade surgeon during the American Civil War; he performed on stage in the UK with Ellen Terry, and once in New York shared the stage with the actor John Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

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Here is another Bertin card from my collection, this time showing one of his non-celebrity clients (as far as I know!).

If you would like to read much more about Louis Bertin then I recommend the wonderful page on the Sussex PhotoHistory website dedicated to the Bertin family, with many illustrations. Follow this link.

25 August, 2014

Brighton Photographer "A" - William AVENELL & Co

William AVENELL & Co


The Sussex Photo History website reports that before William Avenell because a photographer, he was running a hairdressers at the same address. A team photograph of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, taken by William Avenell in 1905, appears on the Sussex Photo History site.

This nice little photograph is just 80mm by 42mm, smaller than a standard CDV,  and known as a 'Promenade Midget Portrait'.

24 August, 2014

Brighton Photographer "A" - William Thomas ALMOND

If, like me, you are a collector, then you know that it is like a kind of terminal illness for which there is not much hope of ever finding a cure. I am always collecting something. My fascination with old photographs was in danger of branching off in all directions, so as a way of limiting myself, I have decided to try to collect at least one photograph from each of the early Brighton photographers.

Fortunately there is a wonderful Directory available online (click here) showing all the known photographic studios in Brighton and Hove between 1841 and 1910. I am working from that list, but don't ever expect to be complete.

One photographer that I would really like to find an example of has the same surname as me, but I don't know if there is a family connection. G. K. Ransom was working at 19 New England Street in 1891.

William Thomas ALMOND


Unfortunately, as I have decided to work through my collection in alphabetical order, my first photograph has a problem. The address given in the Directory of Brighton Photographers matches my photograph, but the photographers name doesn't.

The Sussex Photo History website states that William Almond was at St James Street until 1930.  Perhaps the date range given for Mr Almond - 1910+ - indicates that my photographer was working as an assistant in 1912 (the date written on the photograph). The rubber stamped details on the back of the photograph are not clear, so it is difficult to read the photographer's name.

This photograph is also unusual because it is the only postcard size photograph in the Brighton collection. All the others are either "CDV" or "Cabinet" photographs. Perhaps this is due to the later date? It is one of my favourite photographs.