A friend from the ’80s was a good amateur photographer (good to the point where he had exhibitions); he took photographs of unlikely things, interesting things. Driving along the Bangor to Belfast dual carriageway one morning, he stopped to photograph the side of a barn, upon which was painted Bible verse. The prophecy of the forthcoming judgment was juxtaposed with dark thunder clouds in the Ulster sky to the west.
A couple of dozen photographs in our albums are in the friend’s style – though without his technical ability. Pictures of gates and billboards sit alongside family holiday photographs. It was the 1980s, cash being not plentiful, spending money on colour prints that were not records of anything was a pointless indulgence. Photography had always been about serious matters, family occasions, holidays, visits, important events.
Arriving in my childhood home, the age of computer scanners and printers has brought a new age of old photographs. Little black and white snaps taken on Brownie or Instamatic cameras, and spending long years tucked deep in albums or in envelopes along with their negative counterparts, have made a comeback.
Hanging on the wall is a picture taken around 1965 or 1966, its existence due to the visit of an aunt from Southampton. Unlike most family pictures, it is not taken against a background of a wall or the garden, but is in the farmyard. People do not change much over the years; individuals change, but people generically don’t alter much. Hairstyles may differ and in years to come the small boy’s shirt and shorts will look quaint, but real changes are man made.
The farm well with its concrete cover lies in the foreground, it was to prove invaluable in the drought of 1976. Close by is a tall round corrugated iron water tank that was used for the collection of rainwater. The well water was ‘hard’ and my grandmother would use the ‘soft’ rainwater for the weekly wash. To the rear lies the barton and the haybarn, the small rectangular bales will forever date the picture to the mid 20th Century.
It would not have occurred to us to have taken photographs of the farmyard simply for having them; why would anyone have wanted such pictures when farms for miles around offered similar scenes every day? Yet were our daily lives not as important as the people we met every day?
Perhaps someone in Somerset went around taking odd pictures; pictures of well covers, water tanks, bales and barns. Perhaps someone walked through bartons and cowstalls snapping away without thought for expense or criticIsm. Perhaps out there on the web somewhere there are recorded those things that provided a landscape for the lives featured in everyone else’s snaps.