Bugle band

Unpacking Your Memories

September 1, 2015

This month’s continuation of a short series based on the collection, identification and preservation of family photographs.

You can view last month’s article here.

The remaining photos below take us back into Edwardian and Victorian Cornwall. The first, by an unknown photographer, has my mother (the elder of the two children) and my grandmother with the ‘devastating hat’ in the centre of the frame, believed to be attending an Agricultural/Horticultural Show in Antony village immediately before the First World War.

Bob Keys's family

The print is not in good condition but has probably been taken from the ‘dry plate’ of a professional photographer, or perhaps a local ‘professional’ amateur. I believe it comes from the same time period, 1910-1914, as the earliest studio portrait of my mother.

The pictures from the family album from this period span the world as a number of male family members served overseas on the China station in the Royal Navy and I believe this photo was intended for Grandfather Samuel Burroughs, who at various times was in Australia, Japan and China (the Boxer Uprising and the relief of Peking).

This also explains the exotic studios identified on the borders of a number of the carte de visite portraits of Samuel, which were posted home and include photographic studios from Sidney to Hong Kong and Yokohama. What is remarkable is the similar international style already achieved by the studio portrait in these diverse oriental postings.

The final photograph is a typical Victorian studio portrait of a child, my grandmother, taken in Devonport in the late 1880s. Sadly, the rather nice doll was a prop and my grandmother remembered having to leave this in the studio.

She could not remember her own exact age at the time the portrait was taken, but did remember that she had still not met her father at this time. He had left for the Far-East on naval service and by the time he returned she was already five or six years of age. This was another portrait destined to travel the world keeping family members in touch with each other.

It is interesting to the think that my grandmother who appeared in both the first and last photographs selected here lived through a number of periods in the history of photography. From the experiments of Fox Talbot and Daguerre between 1835 and 1840 and the work of pioneer photographers in the 1850s and 1860s to the growth of popular commercial photography in the last quarter of the nineteenth century we can see how photography has influenced and been influenced by popular culture.

So what can you do?

Why not start by going through your own family photos and organising them into albums; you may even create an online album by scanning the images on to your computer alongside information about your family tree.

You can also get in touch with relatives or family friends to collect information on any images or events that seem puzzling and use the internet for Census and Family History data to fill in any gaps to the puzzle.

What kind of questions should you be asking yourself about a photograph, and what should you make sure you record if your photos are going to be of use to a historian or photo archivist?

I use the simple rule: W6

Who was the Photographer?
When was the photograph taken?
Where was the photograph taken?
Why was the photograph taken?
Whom was the photograph for?
What is the photograph?

At Cornish Audio Visual Archive (C.A.V.A) we would like to hear any interesting stories you discover and see any early or unusual photographs you may uncover: an address and e-mail contact are given below. If you record your findings carefully these may prove invaluable to social historians and cultural historians in the future.

Dr. Garry Tregidga at g.h.tregidga@exeter.ac.uk

Cornish Audio Visual Archive
Institute of Cornish Studies
University of Exeter in Cornwall
Tremough Campus
TR10 9EZ

Bob Keys

Bob is the Film Studies Director of Cornish Story. Also a former university lecturer, he now chooses to focus his research on film and identity in Cornwall, oral and audio-visual history and Cornish folklore.