The real delight of messing around with old photographs is that process of discovery which enables you to rediscover a fine image that has been lost for generations. This is a scan of a tiny old over-exposed print which was so dark it was almost impossible to recognise the subject as being a man in a car. Scanning and cleaning reveals a perfectly wonderful photograph of a man in a car. The look on the face of the man is a picture in itself. Silly as it sounds, I feel like Howard Carter reopening the tomb of Tutankamun.
This is not my step father. The chances are that he is nobody's step father. Statistical probability would suggest, however, that he is someone's father. And he is standing on the steps. Other than that I know little as to the where and when, but a pencilled notation on the reverse of the print suggest that his name might have been Willie Adair.
With a few notable exceptions, the world of Victorian photography was predominantly a male preserve; but here we have a photography studio in Hyde, Cheshire operating under the name of a woman. In fact it is a woman operating under the name of her husband (Mr Samuel Radcliffe) and I have a sneaking feeling that she might be the widow of Samuel. I can find very little about Mrs Radcliffe, but I did discover that another woman photographer - Mrs Wade - was operating out of the same studio at about the same time.
In order to understand the history of British studio photography in the latter half of the nineteenth century you need to understand the pace of technological, social and economic change that worked its way through the country during the long reign of Queen Victoria. During her years on the throne, photography changed from being an expensive scientific experiment and plaything of the rich to a mass market business available to all.
But photography remained the province of the commercial studio specialist - cheap cameras available to ordinary citizens were a thing of the twentieth century. These then were the decades when the studios were the means by which, first the middle classes and later the working classes, could have their images fixed for posterity - a luxury that had previously only been available to the rich who could afford access to a portrait painter. The studio industry went through an intense period of growth, with studio springing up in every city and town - and later on, in every village - in the country.
It was an industry ideally suited to the enterprising young, who would often move around the country establishing studios in town after town. And by the last couple of decades of the century a number of super studio chains were being put together; often characterised by clever marketing on the reverse of their Cabinet Cards and Carte de Visites. The firm founded by Andrew and George Taylor in London in the 1860s was but one of the several who claimed to be the "largest in the world" and "photographers to the queen"
There was obviously a pride to be obtained by having your portrait taken by the people who photographed Queen Victoria - not to mention the Prince and Princess of Wales. The fact that the picture was being taken in industrial Sheffield by an employee who had probably never met Andrew and George Taylor, never mind Her Imperial Majesty, was not important. It was a portrait you could proudly display on your parlour sideboard.
This is a Carte de Visite from the Edinburgh studio of J G Tunny. The subject of the portrait is a rather splendid gent with white hair and a matching white beard. One assumes that Victorians such as this were always welcome in the photographic studios of the 1880s - the sparing use of dark colours would have preserved the life of the developing solutions. The reverse of the card suggests that the photograph can be coloured in "oil, water colour or crayon", but there is so little to colour, once again the task would be both easy and cheap.