IMAGE FROM THE PAST
Your old photographs analysed by our expert Audrey Linkman
Audrey Linkman tells a reader more about a family wedding.
This month we are analysing four postcard portraits sent by Clare Tasker of Tameside, near Manchester. Although picture postcards were available from the 1890s, the postcard format was only adopted for portraiture in the very early years of the 20th century – around 1902. It quickly established itself as the most popular professional format, and remained on sale in Britain into the 1950s.
Although wealthy families commissioned outdoor wedding groups from an early date, this option only became available to working families following the introduction of the gelatine dry plate, and its subsequent commercial manufacture from 1879. Increasingly, commercial photographers abandoned their studios to photograph sitters at their front door, garden gate or in the back yard. These outdoor portraits enabled families to commission photographs to be taken on the actual wedding day with guests and participants dressed in wedding finery. Photographers placed the most important subjects at the centre of the group, and arranged the others in ordered tiers to ensure every face was visible. It appears to have taken a little time to develop an agreed etiquette of positioning. A photographer seeking clarification of this matter in 1903 was simply informed by The British Journal of Photography that the bride was usually posed on the left of her husband.
The ladies’ elaborate, broad-brimmed hats, decorated with flowers, lace and feathers are perhaps the most conspicuous clue to a date in first decade of the 20th century. Many of the gentlemen are wearing white, starched, rounded collars worn turned down with a long-knotted tie, a combination that came to typify the Edwardian period. Little boys at that time usually wore shorts suits adorned with prominent white collars, as we see here. Babies and toddlers, too, were frequently dressed in elaborate outfits including great, decorative, bonnets.
Unfortunately, this photograph appears to be losing detail. The blacks are getting darker and the whites are bleaching out. This is particularly noticeable in the top left corner over the window, which bleeds into a black blob, and in the bottom right corner, where the women’s dresses have somehow faded into the pavement. This may be the result of insufficient washing-out of chemicals at the production stage. If so, this process will continue to erode the detail. It would therefore be advisable to create a good quality copy of this photograph in order to preserve a record of the detail that remains.