A school trip to the Baltic in 1974 brought the disapproval of my paternal grandmother: I had used seven rolls of film to take photographs. The visit had included Copenhagen, Malmo, Gotland and Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg was known at the time). Seven rolls of film had meant eighty-four photographs, the sort of number of pictures someone now might take in a day with a smartphone. Cost was, of course, the issue: my grandmother disapproved of how much my parents had to pay for the developing and printing of the photographs. Photography for my grandmother was about serious matters, posed family pictures, holidays, visits, important events. A thirteen year old boy’s snapshots did not fall into her idea of what could be considered as serious.
Not everyone shared my grandmother’s attitude, a maternal grand aunt seems to have been positively profligate in her use of her camera, making an extensive pictorial record of her visits to her large extended family.
My mother has one of her aunt’s photographs hanging on the wall. Taken around 1965 or 1966, the photograph features the small boy who lived on the farm. The interesting part of the picture is in the background detail. Human beings 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 there were others in Somerset as profligate with their picture taking as my grand aunt, but who went around taking the odd pictures that are now interesting: 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.