Ballet in Weymouth UK – the 1950s and 1960s

 

My most recent acquisition is an album of ballet and ballet-related photographs together with a handful of loose photographs and clippings, also ballet-related. Most of the photographs are from Weymouth, or at least the photographers were from Weymouth. The album containing the photographs is from a stationer in Weymouth too. There are two frustrating things about this collection; firstly there is nothing to indicate who owned this collection in the first place; secondly, although there seems to be a plethora of dance schools operating in Weymouth today, none of them have been established more than ten or twenty years so I can’t identify the school where most of the photos were taken.

I would say that the productions featured indicate that this was a group of amateurs but with serious ambitions. See for instance the shots from the production of Giselle helpfully dated 1961. A feature of the productions is that, as far as I can tell from the photographs, all the parts were danced by females. I haven’t found a photograph with a male dancer.

Other photographs indicate that this school, and it isn’t certain all the shots came from a single place, also ran dance classes covering all ages. There are shots of classes full of young girls and others full of mature females.

Two males who do feature in the album are Cyril Beaumont, dance historian and president of the Cecchetti Society (of which more in a moment) and Anton Dolin, a principal dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the 1920s and Vic-Welles ballet in the 1930s. As Dolin appears in the photograph with several ballerinas taken by Harry Taylor of Bournemouth I assume he at least paid a visit to the school.

There is a series of group photographs noted to be summer schools from 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1965, and 1969. There was a word I couldn’t read on the back of some of these shots but I eventually deciphered it as Cecchetti. This is apparently a method of teaching classical ballet dancing devised by Enrico Cecchetti and now promoted by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. I’m the first to admit that I know almost nothing about ballet – I’ve been to the ballet maybe half a dozen times in my life but doing this research is teaching me a lot.

As I mentioned, the photographers responsible for these shots are varied although one name appears quite often – that of Harry Taylor of Bournemouth. Taylor, now deceased, was known as “Flash Harry,” presumably after the character in the early St Trinian’s films. His moment of fame seems to have been photographing the Beatles who played several times in Bournemouth, a nearby town to Weymouth. His ballet photographs were mostly framed in a distinctive white border (not always reproduced here). Some of his work, if indeed it was him personally, is very distinctive such as the shot of Anton Dolin signing autographs. Sad to say other examples of his work from this collection, whilst looking well-framed and posed, are often poor quality and out of focus on a close examination.

There are several shots of solo ballerinas, some moody and evocative. I particularly like this shot above.

Elsewhere there are some great group shots, mostly posed but a couple of well-caught action photographs.

This signed photograph of Alicia Markova is dedicated to Lilian someone but I can’t make out the second name. Could this Lilian be the owner of the album? I’ve made the remark before but it always strikes me as sad when a collection like this has become disconnected from the family of the original owner. It looks as though this set of photographs and clippings almost certainly belonged to a young girl who maintained her interest in ballet as she grew up – the photos with dates range from 1953 to 1969. Sixteen years of ballet history that must have been of passionate interest to the collector but ended up for sale on ebay by someone who probably bought it at auction or in a house clearance. It’s a privilege to be able to rescue and preserve collections like this.

Finally, if anyone does know more about ballet in Weymouth during the 1950s and 60s I’d love to know. More photos from this collection can be seen in my flickr album of Vintage Dancing Girls.

Cats and Dogs

Pets have always been a favourite subject for amateur photographers and there are many interesting example to be found in old collections and albums. Often the proud owners are seen with their pets as the first photograph shows.

Women and their pet cats are frequently found. In fact I don’t recall any of men or boys with pet cats in my collection. The same goes for dogs – from my entirely unrepresentative collection I have far more women with dogs than men with dogs.

There are also many photographs of the pets by themselves as this set shows. It is particularly difficult for an amateur photographer to get a good shot of their pets. Even with modern cameras and a lot of patience it is a challenge to get a good likeness.

There is the usual problem with these photographs of knowing who we are looking at and when the photograph was taken. This group of three all have information written on the reverse. Top left is “Annie and Brownie, St Louis Ms Aug 1945.” Top right is Daisy, Teeny and Pedro Oct 21 1925.” You might have to look closely to see Teeny. Notes on the bottom picture read “Beaty, Teddy and his cat, see all the garden we have” but no date is given.

There are of course pet photographs to be found on Cabinet Cards and CDVs though these tend to be highly collectable and more expensive than the average. The CDV above is one of my favourites not only because it is a pet photograph but also because of its excellent condition and the fact that the dog is seated on a rare Art Nouveau chair (I suspect it’s Jugendstil but I can’t be certain). I paid £20 for this card and considered it to be a bargain.

If you want to know more about animals in vintage photography then I can recommend Beauty and the Beast by Arnold Arluke and Robert Bogdan. The book sticks to RPPCs as illustrations and ranges far and wide over the subject of our relationship with animals.

Not at all obsessed but ….

In the beginning I had my small collection of vintage photographs neatly stored in albums or boxes but as time went on little piles of unsorted photographs began to pile up all over the tardis-like room I use as my study. Although I broadly knew what was in each pile (or thought I did) the chaos was not helped by my cats who often decided to mountaineer onto the highest and remotest shelves and knock said piles onto the floor.

Yesterday I decided to get the whole collection out on the large dining room table and sort them into more coherent categories. I was somewhat surprised by the number of items to say the least but I persevered with the task.

The older and most valuable of the collection, including all the CDVs, Cabinet Cards and Real Photographic Post Cards are now housed in the old card index cabinet shown here. Needless to say the drawers are mostly full and I’ll be in the market for another cabinet. (Incidentally have you noticed how crazy the prices of these card index cabinets has become recently?) I’ve housed the photographs (as opposed to CDVs, Cabinet Cards and RPPCs) in a series of IKEA boxes and the oversize photographs in larger boxes.

Now all I have to do is make sure any further acquisitions are properly sorted. Of course there is the question of how to further sub-divide subjects within the collection and I can feel a database coming on any day now. Not that I’m obsessed with collecting old photographs you understand.

Random photo find has links to my own history

Sometimes I buy single photographs of particular interest to me but I often buy them in lots. I never know exactly what I’ll find in the lots or what studios in what part of the country (or abroad) will be represented. It’s often only when the photos are scanned and enlarged that I can make out the names of studios or photographers. When I saw that this photograph was by JR Giles of Northampton it sounded familiar.

Then I remembered. I’ve been married twice and the photographs at my first wedding were taken by JR Giles and son of Northampton in 1974. Pretty obviously this was the son of the original JR Giles.

A search on the internet turned up a web page showing that JR Giles, the son, had retired in 2013 and handily the page showed the firm had started life in 1908.

It’s always great to know something about the history of studios and photographers and to be able to link this firm to my own life is very satisfying.

Gertie Grace and Elsie – Before and After

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Often Cabinet Cards and other old photographs are not in great condition when I acquire them. The question is then what to do with them. As far as the originals are concerned it’s just a matter of storing them in a suitable dry place out of direct sunlight but when it comes to displaying them digitally then I usually make some alterations to the scans. Most frequently I use Photoshop’s autotone feature as it usually brings out more detail and enhances the blacks in particular.

In the case of Gerty Grace and Elsie, a cabbinet card dated on the reverse as December 7th 1905, I went a little further. After autotoning the scan I opened it up in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 and did some further tweaking. In this case I brightened a rough circle in the centre of the photograph over the girls’ dresses as there was some fading in this area on the original photograph.

Ideally I would like scans to be as near to the original as possible and that would include the sepia toning but, on the other hand, greater detail is revealed when the black and white conversion is viewed. I still have the card so nothing has been done to destroy the original.

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For this cabinet card of a girl with a fan I have carried out more restoration on the scanned image. Often photographs of this age suffer from foxing – the appearance of brown patches as seen above left. I removed the foxing using the healing brush tool again though I could have spent more time on this to get even better results as a little of the detail on the dress has been lost during the process. I applied a high structure filter in Silver Efex to arrive at the finished image. You can see how much more detail this has revealed, especially in the background objects and furnishings. You could argue that this version has taken it too far but the beauty of doing this is that I can always go back to the original scan and produce a different version.

You don’t even have to be a girl to be a Vintage Dancing Girl

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At some point most collectors of old photographs develop one or more specialist interests. In my case one of my specialist interests is “vintage dancing girls.” This came about because whenever I sorted through lots of photographs I began to notice that there was nearly always one or two photographs of girls in dance costumes, either solo or in groups. You might expect that these dancers would mostly be small girls appearing in some local production but it turns out that there are also large numbers of older dancers (think professional or semi-professional dancers) and even men in drag as this photograph illustrates!

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The three girls in this photograph are typical of this category of Vintage Dancing Girls and they appear to be performing at some open air event with proud parents looking on in the background.

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Groups seem to fall into different types. Some are obviously tap dancing groups whilst others clearly favour more impressionistic styles!

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Some groups of young dancers were clearly more commercially successful. The Dinky Dots (sometimes spelled Dinkie Dots) were around in the 1930s.  Apparently they were active in Bolton for quite a long time. Reminiscences from another young dancer at the Bolton Revisited site notes that ” The Dinky Dots all wore very frilly knickers under their costumes and I was tempted to join them just because I wanted to wear frilly underwear! ”

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Another class of “dancer” seems likely to be just young women who like to dress in dance costume or pose like a dancer as this photograph shows.

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Here are two more professional or semi-professional groups. The Opal Girls were clearly a successful cabaret act. Their agent was based in Ruislip. The girls in the weird hats were from Egham.

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One thing I’ve noticed is that many dancers and dance troupes came from quite unlikely places like Barrow In Furness, like this group. It is likely that these dancers were based at local dance schools.

You can see my complete collection of Vintage Dancing Girls on Flickr. The photographs have been gradually accumulated over more than five years. Once you start a specialised collection such as this it is remarkable how often you come across other photographs which fit the category. The cost of acquiring these photographs can be as little as a few pence each especially when found in larger collections and seldom cost more than a pound or two. Of course, like any other collecting hobby prices are dictated by how many other collectors there are and the supply of “new” items over time. Fortunately there are so many old photographs that the supply is unlikely to exhausted any time soon.

[It’s worth pointing out that there are other specialist subjects that are very expensive to pursue. For instance if you wanted to collect Victorian post mortem photographs you would be lucky to find a good example for less than £100. ]