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.
Often photographs and real photographic post cards have little or no information to identify the time, person and place. In the case of this photograph the notes on the reverse tell us everything about the location and describe in obsessive detail everything “Ruthie” is wearing even down to the charms on her charm bracelet.
The photograph is numbered (766) and dated at both top and bottom on the reverse which suggests it was filed in a manner to make it easy to locate. You have to ask if this is number 766 then how much more information was attached to the rest of the collection and how big was it?
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.
Here’s my latest thinking on how to describe Heretics:
A novel of the occult set in 1959 and 1859
You know how the Victorians were very upright, very religious and so prudish that they even covered their table legs? Well it might have been true of a few upper middle class families but for most people the reality was different. Costume dramas perpetuate the idea of the proper Victorian but forget to mention the appalling social conditions, the high infant mortality rate, the prostitution, the violence, the squalor, the baby farms.
The Victorian characters in Heretics are different. They pretend to have the virtues expected of their class but they consider themselves to be heretics for a reason. For a start they practice the occult but they still go to church. They conjure demons but cover their tracks by doing good works. And they are involved in a very dangerous game which could have consequences for the fabric of time itself.
And all of this before Alexander Harrison finds a way to travel back in time from 1959 and join their ranks. Now the race is truly on to stop their common enemy, Bella Nightingale, before it’s too late and she destroys all of their lives…….
One of the most difficult tasks faced by an author is constructing short pieces of writing to be used in marketing their work. Whether pitching to an agent or writing suitable blurbs for the back of the book or coming up with a one sentence description of the book it’s never easy to achieve a good result. You might have spent hundreds of hours writing and redrafting your book but it’s never going to get anywhere unless you have the skill to construct pithy sentences that will sell your work in the shortest possible number of words.
So your novel is likely to have 80000 words or more and you have perhaps 100 words to describe it in blurb format that will entice people to look at the whole work. You can’t outline the plot in even general terms and anyway you wouldn’t want to give away key points. It can’t really be a linear description of events. It has to have some key element of the book that will grab a reader and make them think “Yes, I really want to read that.” There might even be a temptation to describe something that really doesn’t feature in the book in the way that cinema trailers used to do. It’s not the sort of thing that you can dash off in minutes. You’ll probably find yourself writing several different versions and even when you settle on the final version you’ll then want to write and rewrite until it says only those things that will convey the essence of your book.
When you’ve solved the blurb problem then you can wrestle with the logline problem (or you could start with this and work up to the blurb). You know how hard it was to condense your megawork into a hundred words? Now you’ve got to do it all over again only this time you get only one sentence. My guess is that it’s not just a sentence from the blurb but a whole new and tortuous problem to be solved. In the case of my book Daughters of Derby I eventually came up with that single sentence in a shamanic trance. That’s right, believe it or not, I had to resort to the mystic realms to get an answer and as it happens I was very pleased with the result.
“In the city where everything is for sale and no-one owns the truth.”
It tells you nothing of the story, except that it’s set in a city, but it conveys the idea that this is a noir-ish tale and that you should expect dark doings.
Assuming you manage to craft a blurb and a logline your next task will be to write a synopsis to submit with your manuscript to an agent or a publisher. And to do this you have to summarise your book in perhaps two sides of A4 and you describe the relevant events probably in chronological order though that is not proscribed in any way. Cue more sleepless nights as you work on this problem.
Now you might think you’re ready to submit to an agent but what genre does your book belong to? In the case of the book I’m currently sending to agents the genre is historical-horror-fantasy-science-fiction-murder-mystery-occult partially Dennis-Wheatley pastiche but updated to a retro-ironic nineteen-fifties slash eighteen-fifties approach (i.e. both pre and post Wheatley). That of course won’t do. A publisher wants to know what the singular genre is to gauge likely markets and marketability. Right now I’ve settled on the following for the genre that Heretics belongs to:
“A novel of the occult set in 1959 and 1859.”
But that’s not a genre, you protest. I know but it’s the best you’re getting right now.
However frustrating all this is you’d better get used to it as a vital part of marketing your book and preparing to send it to agents and publishers. In my next post I’ll share my current thinking on the blurb for Heretics.
Met some very interesting people today at the Wirksworth Book Fair. I’ve not tried marketing my book Daughters of Derby this way before and it’s quite a strain, psychologically speaking, to put yourself out in public this way. It’s a great pleasure though to meet strangers who are good enough to take a chance on your book and to sign copies for them.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Groups seem to fall into different types. Some are obviously tap dancing groups whilst others clearly favour more impressionistic styles!
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! ”
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.
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.
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. ]