Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Old Photographs:the Good, the Bad and the Naughty!!

More about the joys of research !!
When you're writing historical fiction, particularly Victorian and Edwardian novels, you rely heavily on a variety of sources, but old photographs are a great way to check out the way people lived many, many years ago. They're also a great way to discover characters and help you with details related to clothing, hairstyles, eccentricities etc.
In my research for A Proper Lady, I've come across some wonderful pictures and discovered some groundbreaking photographers whose work has given us a lasting record of ways of life long gone.

I found some incredible pictures by British photographer, Frank Sutcliffe (1853-1941) who came to live in Whitby after being a portrait photographer in Kent. He fell in love with the quaint fishing village on the Yorkshire coast and, refusing to prostitute his art by taking tourist photographs began taking pictures of the real Whitby and the local people. In doing this he created a revealing record of this North Yorkshire town. You can find a selection of his work at The Sutcliffe Gallery. Check out these amazing pictures of Whitby fisherfolk.
And old salt and his wife

Fish gutters on the pier at Whitby
And since we're on a nautical theme, how about this photograph that came up when I was looking for images of "handsome Victorian men". Looks to me like styles haven't changed too much. Beards and short hair for men were also fashionable over a century ago! I think this guy has quite a modern look!
Vintage sailor portrait

Speaking of handsome men, another great source of inspiration for historical novels can be your own family pictures. While working on another project (set in 1930's and 1940's Durham) I came across a terrific family picture that gave me many ideas for this story. The suave young man on the far left is my father, Bob Horn, pictured here with one of the earliest bands he played with at the Gaiety rooms in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham. I believe this was probably taken in the early 1930's.
The boys in the band
While researching Victorian photographs, I discovered that photoshopping has been around for longer than we think. Check out this 19th century trick photograph:
 Victorians also had a fascination with those who were different, and while our modern sensibilities might disapprove of the old "freak show" mentality, this picture of bearded lady, Jean Carroll, tenderly depicts a woman who seems at ease with her appearance. She went on the shave the beard off for love, and also acquire at least 700 tattoos!

 Finally, this little picture sums up the secretive Victorian approach to sexuality. It portrays the titillating idea of peeping through the keyhole to spy on a lady as she undressed. Men were also able to attend "live shows" at establishments that masqueraded as respectable private bath houses, but were in fact places where men paid to spy the female bathers through a "judas hole".

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