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Waspies-Derry-500

Waspies-Belfast-500

This pair of Northern Irish studio portraits feature two tightly laced ladies whose cinched-in waists are accentuated by belts or corsets worn as outwear. The photograph by J. Glass dates from the 1890s and shows a woman wearing an unusual leather laced belt with an attachment that looks like a telephone cord! The verso of this carte-de-visite incorporates a design which was registered by Marion and Co. in 1894. The woman’s husband wears a Union flag, demonstrating his political affiliation and loyalist leanings.

The photograph from Belfast is very similar to another image I posted about a few years back. I love her precariously balanced hat which includes a large bow and buckle feature. The high neckline accentuated with a brooch; ruched velvet bodice and puffed Juliet sleeves are typical of the time. Her tight lacing may, in fact, be part of the bodice of her dress rather than a separate guêpière or waist cincher. Whilst researching this post, I came across many phrases to describe a variety of exterior corsets, for example, corselets, Swiss waists, waspies, waist cinchers and guêpière. Fortunately, The Dreamstress site had an excellent post which clarifies the difference between some of them and which you can read here.

The firm of McBride and Co., 3 High Street, Belfast, were (see W.A. Maguire’s A Century in Focus: Photography and Photographers in the North of Ireland, 1839-1939) at this location between 1894-1901. This dates both photographs to a similar time period and indeed the women’s silhouettes are remarkably alike.

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This photographic postcard displays a playful interaction between image and text. It was sent from Gilnahirk, County Down, to a young boy in Malton, Yorkshire, England in late 1904. The oval portrait, with bare trees silhouetted in the background, shows a man with his arms folded. He is wearing a stiff white collar and his well oiled hair is parted in the centre, a style that was very typical of the era.

I really like the sender’s typically Northern Irish use of the word ‘wee’ and the self-deprecating way in which he draws attention to his grumpy demeanour: “Dear George, Do you remember ever seeing this wee chap? Hope you are keeping well. Wishing you a Happy XMas and a bright and prosperous New Year. With love to all, Joe. I’m not always quite so solemn looking.”

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The boy in question was Master George Pexton who lived at the Railway Hotel, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire, a photograph of the establishment can be seen here.

The postal mark places the sender in Belfast city on the evening of the 23rd of December and one can imagine the card being received just in time for Christmas. Overall, the document is a delightful snippet of early 20th century life.

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Just a quick post to bring your attention to an exciting project which features the type of vernacular photography that I love. ‘Man on Bridge’ is a documentary which will look at the work of Arthur Fields, a Dublin street photographer who worked on O’Connell Bridge for over 50 years. I have a few of his images in my collection including this one of a group of young men taken in the 1950s. You can find out more about the project and how to support it here.

The photographs below are slightly earlier and were taken on O’Connell Street. The back of one of the prints outlines the contact details for Irish Walking Films where the photographs could be collected.

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My guess is that these colour photographs of the West of Ireland were most likely taken by a professional photographer as the verso refers to them as test shots. The warm brown tones and violet blues are more subtle than the hyper coloured images taken by John Hinde. Indeed, this first image is reminiscent of Hinde’s famous photograph of the red haired boy and his sister which featured on a 1960s postcard. Both photographs were taken in Connemara and show a donkey and a creel of turf. See here for Seán Hillen’s collage based on the iconic postcard.

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I love the angle from which this photograph was taken. It is captioned as follows: ‘Cargo being unloaded into currachs from C.I.E. ship Noamh Éanna, Off Inisheer, Aran Islands, 8th August 1968.’ The figure in the top right hand corner and the third boat, which is only partially visible, add interest to its composition.

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The third street scene is full of the browns and orange hues which are typical of late ’60s colour photography. It features two shops on Ellison Street, Castlebar, County Mayo. These are Peter Dever’s grocery which is proclaimed on the shop front as ‘The House for Bacon’ and Beckett’s tobacconist. I have previously posted kodachrome slides taken during the same period, however, the colours were more saturated with stronger reds than in these prints. I’ve been reading The Genius of Colour Photography by Pamela Roberts which contains some great examples of the art of colour photography although I have yet to identify what type of film was used in these Irish photographs.

On another matter, I am giving two talks during heritage week later this month: one on photographs of the families of participants in the 1916 Rising at the Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham (Tuesday 20th) and another on dating family photographs at the National Library of Ireland (Friday 23rd).

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I have posted photographs of dogs and their owners taken in Irish studios before and thought that this pair were a nice addition to the series. They were taken by two very different studios: the Wynne business was based in the small town of Castlebar, County Mayo whilst the Werner family had several fashionable locations in Dublin’s city centre.

Louis Werner (1825-1901) came to Ireland from Alsace in the mid-nineteenth century and was originally engaged as a portrait painter. He had switched to photography by the 1860s and I’ve featured several examples of his work elsewhere on the blog. The business was eventually taken over by his his son, Alfred who also exhibited his pictoralist photography internationally at the Chicago World Fair in 1893; the 3rd Exposition d’art photographique, 1896, Paris and the American Institute Photographic Salon, New York, 1899. He favoured the platinotype or platinum print which gives a great tonal range. I love this portrait of two Dublin sisters and their small terrier dog. The girls’ flowing hair is shown beautifully and I reckon, their matching outfits date the photograph to the 1900s.

The earlier carte-de-visite by Wynne’s is great fun. The dog and owner are sporting a similar shaggy hairstyle and the photograph is full of great detail from the woman’s beautiful lace collar worn with a crucifix necklace to the velvet embroidered tablecloth. The National Photographic Archive have an amazing photograph of Thomas J. Wynne advertising his business ca.1880 in which you can zoom in on the details of the products he was selling. By 1901, the family also had branches of their photographic business in Tipperary Town and Loughrea, County Galway, the latter being run by 34 year-old Delia Wynne.

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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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This photographic souvenir of the Students’ Union Fête at Queen’s College, Belfast was produced by the well-known photographer Abernethy. The 1894 fête/fair was organised to raise funds for a new building and was a spectacular event. Its various attractions and exhibits are outlined in detail in an accompanying guide called The Book of the Fair which was published by Olley & Co. It provides a fascinating insight into the commercial and social life of the city in the late nineteenth century.

The stalls were run by students and the wives and daughters of local aristocracy and merchants. George Morrow & Son provided the decoration for part of a spectacle known as Pomona’s Palace which featured an Enchanted Forest and the Realm of the Ice King! Stallholders adopted various costumes and these were outlined in detail in the guide. The Art stall attendants were dressed in “the style of Kate Greenaway.” Medical students wore a skull and crossbones motif. The women at stall No. 7 entitled ‘The Snowdrift’ wore “white crepon dresses, white white silk fichus, white picture hats with plumes, and powdered hair.”

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The photographic stall was run by the city’s foremost commercial photographic firms including Allison & Allison, Hembry, Kilpatrick, Nielsen and Reid Brothers. A photographic studio was constructed on the grounds of the college which was sponsored by James Wilson and guaranteed that “sitters will receive finished proofs within a few hours.” In addition to cabinet photographs the photographers offered ‘Midget’ photographs like the one featured above. I was able to ascertain that this portrait was taken by Abernethy on either Friday 26th of May or Saturday the 27th. Abernethy advertised elsewhere in the guide boasting that he had two premises: one at High Street, Belfast and a Printing and Finishing works at Bloomfield stating that “work finished in the suburbs is free from fog and smoke, which often spoil photographs finished in the city.”

The other advertisements in the guide give a real flavour of the city’s commercial life and included: Dunville & Co. Limited, Royal Irish Distilleries, Belfast who claimed to be the largest holders of whiskey in the world; The Franklin Steam Laundry, Belfast to whom one could send dirty linen by train; Anderson Brothers, 12 Royal Avenue, Belfast who specialised in re-covering umbrellas and another advertisement offered the ‘Martlet’ brand of non-alcoholic Pilsener for “advocates of temperance.”

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I really like the fact that this portrait can be linked to a specific event and despite its small size, only H 48mm x W 28mm, the image is strong and clear. The surrounding mount depicts the college’s main building designed by Charles Lanyon in a Gothic Revival style. Whoever the sitter was, I hope he enjoyed all the fun of the fair which included a ‘Living Aunt Sally’ under the management of the Arts Students and a performance by the Clifton Banjo Society!

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