Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Riding The Technological Rip-Tide In A One Horse Town

Over the years, I have known a good number of people who came from Sowerby and they all shared a similar physical trait. There was a certain bluntness about their features, almost as though the natural lines of their bodies had been evened out by the relentless work of the wind and the rain blowing down from the moors. I can well believe that this chap lived in Sowerby - he has the look.

Whilst the subject of these old Carte de Visite's is always fascinating, I must confess that I am first drawn to the photographers themselves - in this case Thomas Heap of Sowerby. To understand Victorian photographers you have to understand the technological transformation which turned a pseudo-scientific experiment into a popular mass market in a few short decades. 

Most Victorian photographers were not born into the business and many were not even trained in the business. They rode a technological rip-tide, seizing the opportunities presented by a rapidly emerging mass market that meant every town and city, every large village and crowded settlement, had the need of a photographic studio.

Thomas Heap was a perfect example. He was born in the nearby village of Warley in 1847, the son of a "cloth fuller". As was so often the case, that is the trade he followed his father and grandfather into, and in the 1871 and 1881 census, he is shown as working in the textile industry. By 1891 he has undergone a transformation, the hands that had previously filled and raised cloth were now soaked in developer and fixer: he had opened a photographic studio in Sowerby.

He later advertised himself as a "Portrait, Landscape and Equestrian Photographer" - just in case any of the blunt farmers of Sowerby wanted their carthorses immortalising in silver bromide salts.

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