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Archive for the ‘James Joyce and Photography’ Category

This is the fourth year that I’ve written about the photographic references within Joyce’s Ulysses. Episode 14, Oxen in the Sun, relates to pregnancy and birth and includes a reference to ‘artistic coloured photographs of prize babies’ whose circulation to pregnant women was recommended. The carte-de-viste below dates to 1880 and is a composite image of thirty-seven smiling babies hovering over the phrase ‘Good Morning.’ Joyce refers to a coloured photograph and curiously page 45 of James Birch’s Babylon: Surreal Babies (Dewi Lewis, 2010) includes the same image reproduced in a pastel tinted postcard printed in Germany and sent from France ca. 1900.

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In Episode 17, Ithaca, Bloom’s mental inventory  of the contents of a cabinet at his home 7 Eccles Street includes ‘fading photographs of Queen Alexandra of England and of Maud Branscombe, actress and professional beauty.’ I’ve featured Maud on a previous Bloomsday post here, however, the photo below shows the Queen whilst she was Princess of Wales and which was taken in 1863 not long after her marriage to Edward the VII. It is hand-tinted and in the carte-de-visite process. Images of Alexandra sold very well throughout her life and she visited Ireland on several occasions.

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Other Ulysses related posts include ‘Milly Bloom and Photography’ and ‘Grandpapa Giltrap’s lovely-dog‘.

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I’ve written a few blog posts on the photographic references within Joyce’s Ulysses including one on Milly Bloom’s photographic apprenticeship. This Bloomsday, I thought I’d focus on two celebrity portraits which were referenced within the book. Part II, Episode Thirteen, Nausicaä, takes place on Sandymount Strand. The young woman Gerty MacDowell notices that Leopold Bloom is looking at her and his appearance reminds her favourably of Martin Harvey, an actor, who was known for his exotic looks: “She could see at once by his dark eyes and his pale intellectual face that he was a foreigner, the image of the photo she had of Martin Harvey, the matinée idol.”

English actor Martin Harvey (1863-1944) appeared on stage in Ireland on many occasions and according to The Irish Times of the 26th November 1904, crowds thronged to see him in the Theatre Royal where he performed Hamlet. His photograph was taken in the same month by Chancellor’s of Dublin and doubtless it sold well.

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The actress and beauty Maud Branscombe (active 1870s-1880s) is referenced by Joyce in Episode 17, Ithaca. A faded copy of her portrait is included in a mental inventory that Bloom makes of the contents of a cabinet at his home 7 Eccles Street. She belongs to a previous generation, her heyday being the 1880s, when she made more money from photographic sales than from acting. 65 photographic portraits of her can be found in the collection of the New York Public Library and the following quotation, dating from 1887, elaborates upon her fame:

“Maud Branscombe, the actress, has been the best photographed individual the world has probably ever known. She has four or five years been playing in England, whence she had come to this country, where copies of her face were most numerous and their sales heaviest. In private she is not of attractive appearance, but her features are such that above the shoulders she ‘takes well’ in almost every one of the numberless positions in which she has been placed before the camera. One of her cartes has so saintly an aspect that it has often been taken for that of a nun, which is perhaps the highest compliment that can possibly be paid to a burlesque actress.”

I really like the way Joyce uses these popular cultural references and how they demonstrate the ubiquity of celebrity culture and its interaction with photography.

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Dublin City Libraries have chosen James Joyce’s Dubliners to be the featured title in their initiative One City, One Book. I’ve mentioned the book before in earlier posts, however, the project brought to mind several images from my collection which remind me of Joyce’s references to photography within the short stories. I love Joyce’s descriptions of interiors, particularly in The Dead and the following photographs feature similar subjects and conjure up the same atmosphere as occurs in the stories.

From The Dead:  “Her photograph stood before the pierglass. She held an open book on her knees and was pointing out something in it to Constantine who, dressed in a man-o-war suit, lay at her feet.”

The man-o-war suit mentioned in the story was a version of the then popular sailor suits worn by little boys during the mid to late nineteenth-century. The trousers in this variety were long legged and were often worn with a wide-brimmed straw hat like the example below from the Werner studio of Grafton Street. Joyce himself was photographed as a young boy wearing a sailor suit.

From A Little Cloud: “It was Annie’s photograph. Little Chandler looked at it, pausing at the thin tight lips. She wore the pale blue summer blouse which he had brought her home as a present one Saturday … He looked coldly into the eyes of the photograph and they answered coldly. Certainly they were pretty and the face itself was pretty. But he found something mean in it. Why was it so unconscious and ladylike? The composure of the eyes irritated him. They repelled him and defied him: there was no passion in them, no rapture.”

I think the expression of the woman above matches that described by Joyce in the story ‘The Little Cloud’. Blouse and skirt combinations were very popular during the 1890s and 1900s – the period during which Joyce wrote Dubliners and when the story is set.
From Eveline: “And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Mary May Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:
‘He is in Melbourne now.’ ”

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In my mind’s eye, I like to think that Leopold Bloom’s daughter, Milly, looked a little like this young girl who was photographed by Chancellor’s of Dublin. In Ulysses, fifteen year-old Milly is portrayed as a lively and headstrong girl who was sent from Dublin to the midlands town of Mullingar to serve her time as an apprentice photographer. She reports her progress to her father in a letter stating that she is ‘getting on swimming in the photo business now.’ Bloom appeared to think that her aptitude for photography might be hereditary citing a cousin in Hungary who ran a successful photographic studio.

The career of photographer was probably a good choice for a sociable young girl. The other duller option, which is mentioned in the novel, was to send her to a Skerry’s secretarial college to learn shorthand and typing. However, Bloom also hints that Milly was sent to Mullingar to keep her occupied and out of harm’s way. 

So what was the the probability of a young girl being apprenticed to a photographer in early 20th century Ireland?  The 1901 census reveals that 110 of the 485 photographers in Ireland were women. Of these, 91 were single women and 74% of the total were under the age of 31.

James Joyce was familiar with the town of Mullingar having spent a period there in 1900 and 1901 (see Leo Daly, James Joyce and the Mullingar Connection, Dolmen Press, 1975) . During this time there were several photographic studios operating in the town, the largest and best known was that of Philip Shaw. In the 1901 census, his 17 year-old niece Ethel was his apprentice. Could this studio and Ethel have been Joyce’s inspiration? 

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