Posts Tagged ‘Snapshot Photography’

I have featured images from this Northern Irish album in a previous post. The photographs were taken by H.J. Malcomson from Belfast with a Kodak Vest Pocket camera between 1925 and 1932. Most snapshot albums are filled with images of family events and occasions, however, this photographer had artistic aspirations. Even though the prints are tiny (6.5cm x 4.5cms) the photographer has succeeded in creating stark and abstract images of large scale landscape features in Antrim and Down.


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This image comes from a small snapshot album covering the mid 1930s to the end of World War Two. It starts with carefree photos of young people at various seaside towns in England and moves on to wartime shots of military hospitals and navy ports. The final image is of the gravestone of Frank William Holloway of the Derby Yeomanry, who died in Tunisia aged 25 on the 26th March 1943.

The middle of the album includes several photographs taken in Ireland when a group of men were on leave from the British Army. It typifies the playfulness of the snapshot and I love the abstract shapes created by the unusual positioning of the four friends as they look down at the camera.

The intersection of text and images adds to the page though I’ll probably never know who the ‘me’ captioned in the photo was! The repeated use of the same photographs is something I have encountered in many amateur albums and one wonders whether they were added as filler or to make a particular point within the narrative.

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I am going on my holidays tomorrow to County Sligo and hope to have as much fun as the group pictured on this page of a 1920s snapshot album. The family were from middle-class Clontarf and perfectly matched the sector at whom the snapshot camera was marketed. They certainly look like they are enjoying themselves!

Luckily, I have the album in its entirety which allows me to infer much about the family, their friends, interests and concerns. I hate to see album pages being sold separately and removed from their original context. The careful placing together of certain images and the interplay of pages tells us much about the author’s intent. This is explored brilliantly by Barbara Levine in her work Snapshot Chronicles: inventing the American Photo Album.

The bathing attire was right on trend for the 1920s. The women appear to be wearing one-piece costumes called tank suits, a style which was popularized by the Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman. Many of these suits have bold geometric patterns. Bathing caps protected the women’s bobbed hair and mirror the cloche hats of the era.

The pre-Lycra fabric looks like it would definitely sag when wet!

The men’s costumes are also one-piece and the suit at the rear of the picture includes a button closure at the shoulder – a popular design feature during the 1920s.

From elsewhere in the album, I know that the young girl pictured above was called Doreen and that she was about 6 years of age in 1926, dating this snapshot to the late 1920s. I also know that the extended family holidayed in Rossnowlagh and Bundoran, County Donegal, where these photographs might possibly have been taken?

As ever, the snapshots inadvertently capture little details like the girl’s white shoes which are held in the hands of a female relative and the barely visible pioneer pin on the young man’s lapel to the left of this picture. I particularly like the fully suited gentleman who appears to have made no change to his outfit for the seaside trip.

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The accordion became increasingly popular with Irish céilidh bands in the 1940s and 50s. Some purists, including the composer Seán Ó Riada, were against its use in Irish traditional music. This band are all playing two-row button accordions and even though the photograph has seen better days it is still a keeper. I like to think of it pinned up in a rural kitchen for many decades.

I recently bought Bertien van Manen’s 2007 book called Give Me Your Image whose work features still-life style images of family photos as they are commonly displayed in households. The concept for this book really appeals to me and makes me wonder about the photographs I collect and where they were displayed during their lifetime.  

 A quick search reveals that there were many bands of this name active in the 1950s. The seller indicated that it originated in Kilkenny, so the band may possibly be St. Patrick’s Dance Band from Ballyragget.

I also like the illustration which is barely visible on the drum kit – the glamorous 1950s couple are definitely at odds with the appearance of the band members and the makeshift stage.

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I got a lot of feedback from an earlier post in which I attempted to identify the location for a snapshot of a Dublin pub and street-scape. Come here to me! reposted the photograph and the responses were many and varied – some thought the image was taken in Parliament Street whilst others reckoned it was in Temple Bar. Upon closer inspection, the engraved window shows the surname Healy and after much thrawling through street directories the only public house I could locate that matched the numbers was J.J. Healy’s of 32 Mary Street.

This was confirmed by Jennifer from Finglas who sent me the image below showing the pub in a later incarnation as The Elbow Inn along with the card for Healys. The building which was on the corner of Mary Street and Liffey Street, was given a mock Tudor makeover in the 60s! It was demolished to make way for the current Marks and Spencer shop ca. 1978. 

According to Jennifer’s mother, the Hegarty family lived next door so it looks like the mystery is solved!

On another note, I am travelling to Cavan this week to give a talk about a group of photographers who were active in the area in the 1890s! This follows on from a article I wrote for the Breifne Historical Society. Going back to my roots!




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This album is one of my latest purchases. It contains about a hundred snapshots taken between 1925 and 1932 by H.J. Malcomson from Belfast. He started to put the album together when he was about eleven years of age, however, unlike a lot of photographers he has filled each page and captioned all the images. The snaps were taken with a Kodak Vest Pocket camera. I haven’t been able to find out too much about H.J. but he is probably related to the merchant and amateur natural historian Herbert Thomas Malcolmson who donated several collections to the Ulster Museum.

The album provides a good overview of a wealthy Protestant family’s life in the inter-war period. The subjects include the usual family events such as picnics and day trips and their home and its grounds at Glenorchy, Knock, Belfast. Many pages are of antiquarian interest and I especially love the first page above with its strange combination of a cromlech and a snapshot of hens in the hallway of the house.

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