Since the end of term yesterday, hours have been spent working on uploading, restoring and enhancing photographs from the 1920s and 1930s. It is a process that demands no skill, for the Ancestry website will transform images with the click of a mouse.
The photographs are not plentiful, mostly family snaps. Photographs were a more complicated and considerably more expensive process than a century later.
As well as bringing alive the family members pictured, the details that are interesting are those that give clues about the ordinary things of everyday life: the rabbit hutch attached to a fence in my great grandfather’s garden, the kitchen chair behind which my great grandmother stands, the Victorian-style children’s clothing to which my grandmother strongly objected when she was a child.
There is a natural inclination when we have a camera is to photograph the landmarks, the famous sights, the beauty spots, the popular locations. Look at any family’s holiday albums and most pictures will be the sights or the family. Most photographs taken by visitors to major tourist cities will feature numerous views of familiar places, differentiated only by the quality of the camera, or the imagination or skill of the photographer. There will be few pictures of the commonplace things of daily life. Returning from holidays, it is the landmark pictures that matter, but what of thirty or forty years later? Photographs of landmarks will always be in plentiful supply. A web search will provide us with thousands of images of the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, but the familiar everyday things from former times will no longer be so familiar and their pictures may be rare.
If photographs are intended to capture memories of a time and the spirit of a place, then photographs that include rabbit hutches and kitchen chaired are much more important than pictures of big houses. Photographs of my great grandparents walking down a street are much more important than pictures of castles and palaces. Who would think of taking a picture of an aisle of Tesco, or the forecourt of a filling station?Yet those are the pictures that will evoke nostalgia, that will give future generations a perspective of the past as it was, that other country where we did things differently.
Perhaps next time a group of people taking pictures is spotted, the thing to do will be to photograph the photographers, or to consciously record the things they have ignored.