Preserving the Past.
I’m lucky that so many of our old family photos have survived. They bring the story of my ancestors to life in a way that official documents cannot do, and provide some clues to the type of people they were. But, although they are a blessing, they also present a few problems of their own.
The first problem is preserving them for the future. Some of oldest photographs are starting to deteriorate, with some of the prints fading and in one or two cases the surface is starting to flake off. This is a simple problem to solve though: I’m photographing the oldest and most precious picture and the originals are being stored safely. The biggest problem is trying to decide what the photographs are showing. In the majority of cases I can recognise who is in the photographs, but it’s difficult in most cases to know the background to the pictures. This week’s pictures of the week, however, have an interesting story behind them.
Little Girl on the Beach
The little girl with the knitted suit, fair hair and sandals is my mother. She was born in 1924 and, judging by her age in the picture, I reckon it must have been taken before 1930. The sepia toned photograph is attractive enough in its own right and, before the widespread availability of colour film, was as good as most pictures got. Although there had been experiments with colour photography in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that Kodak and Agfa began to develop the first practical colour film. Black and white photography was still the norm for many years.
Whilst colour prints were beyond the reach of most people, there was still a way of getting colour photographs of your loved ones: hand colouring. And this is exactly what my grandmother did.
The Colouring Process
According to the National Gallery (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/explore/glossary-of-art-terms/hand-coloured) Hand colouring had been popular since Victorian times. In the process dyes were brushed on to black and white prints. The next three photographs show how the process worked.
The next photograph in the sequence is of the back of the original snapshot of Winifred. As well as her address, which is in the Manchester Area, there is an instruction to remove the crowd from the background. Winifred’s Mother, Mary, wanted a 16″ by 12″ print just of her daughter.
There’s no information about what colours to use on the enlarged print, but they must have been recorded somewhere, as the next picture shows. This shows the back of the enlargement. Again the address has been written down, and there’s also a list of the colours to be used. I guess that they were written down after the black and white enlargement had been made, before it went to the colourist.
The Finished Result
Finally here’s a picture of the coloured print. Originally it must have been in a square frame with an oval opening, as the print is damaged slightly.
I love the picture and it brings the image of a playful little girl to life for me. I feel very lucky that it has survived for the ninety years since it was produced.