Hot off the press….

I’m pleased to report my recent appointment as editor of Photographica World, the journal of the Photographic Collectors’ Club of Great Britain (PCCGB). In taking on this post I am following in the footsteps of Michael Pritchard who edited the journal from its foundation in 1977 through to 2002, when the editorship passed to John Marriage, in whose capable hands it has remained for the last sixteen years. Photographica World is a 60-page magazine, printed in colour and published three times a year. It is dedicated to the history of cameras and photographic culture, publishing original research, feature articles, book reviews and correspondence.

Some recent issues of ‘Photographica World’

The PCCGB has members across the UK, Europe, America, Asia and Australasia, including vintage camera and photographic collectors, museum curators, photohistorians, academics, publishers, professional photographers and dealers, as well as many others with diverse interests in the history of photographic culture and technology. Every year the PCCGB hosts an international camera fair in London – this year’s Photographica will be on Sunday 20th May. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

 

Carte-de-visite of the week #13 Belle Bilton

This carte-de-visite was taken in the late 1880s and shows the Countess of Clancarty (1867-1906) – a singer, actress and music-hall entertainer better known under her stage-name of Belle Bilton. It shows her in costume and was taken in the Ebury Street studios of fashionable London photographers W. & D. Downey, opened in 1872 by William Downey (1829-1915) while his brother Daniel managed their studio in Newcastle. The Downeys took many portraits of Queen Victoria and the royal family, as well as aristocrats, society beauties and famous actresses. Belle was photographed by Downey several times, and also sat for other society photographers such as Alexander Bassano.

Background and Stage Career

Isabel Maud Penrice Bilton was born in 1867, the daughter of Sergeant John George Bilton of the Royal Engineers. Under the stage name of Belle Bilton she made her name as a music hall entertainer at the Alhambra and the Empire and other venues. Sometimes she appeared with her sister – an advert for a performance at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly in 1886 shows the ‘Sisters Bilton’ on the billing.

Lord Dunlo

Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty, using a stereoscopic camera around 1864, three years before the birth of his son.

At the Corinthian Club towards the end of April or beginning of May 1889, Belle met a young aristocrat – William, Viscount Dunlo, son of Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty and heir to the title. Like Belle, Lord Dunlo was twenty years old, and the couple quickly fell for one another: they were married soon after, at Hampstead Registry Office, on 10 July 1889. The groom’s father was not impressed at his son’s choice of bride, and William had already incurred the Earl’s displeasure due to his lack of enthusiasm for the army career that had been planned for him. As it had already been decided that William would benefit from foreign travel in the company of a sober and morally-minded mentor, his scandalous marriage to a music hall entertainer proved the last straw: the Earl forced his newly-wedded son to sail for Australia immediately under threat of losing his inheritance. A divorce case – which in those days depended upon proving adultery – was at once initiated, with the Earl determined to use every means in his power to blacken Belle’s name and have the union dissolved with his family’s honour intact.

The Trial

Over the next few months evidence was gathered, while Belle – in the absence of her husband – continued to socialise and pursue her stage career. In April 1890 she played the title role in the ‘burlesque extravaganza’ Venus at the Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. The trial opened in July 1890 with Sir James Hannen sitting as judge, Sir Charles Russell prosecuting, and the solicitor general Frank Lockwood QC representing Belle. The adultery trial had been preceded by a separate court case in which Belle was implicated in forgery; although the matter was quite independent of her marriage to Lord Dunlo, it was clearly intended to blacken her character – an objective that was largely thwarted by her being found innocent.

Eastern Evening News (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.2

It became apparent during the adultery trial that Belle was more sinned against than sinning, and the Earl and his associates came out looking worse, having instigated various machinations to make Belle look bad. As recent events have made all too clear, rich and powerful men can be responsible for all sorts of abuse to protect their interests. When Lord Dunlo declared he believed his wife to be innocent of the charges, the case collapsed, and he returned to live with Belle. Cut off from his father’s allowance, the couple were required to live off Belle’s earnings from the theatre – estimated at around £1,500 a year. Some felt that the publicity of the court case might actually help matters:

‘I dare say the photographs of Lady Dunlo (Miss Belle Bilton) are more marketable now than ever. I don’t know if this fascinating young lady has been paid liberal terms by Bassano and the other photographers to whom she has given sittings, but she certainly deserves to remunerated handsomely. She will sell like ripe cherries from now until her divorce trial comes off.’

London and Provincial Entr’acte (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.5.

The couple did not have long to wait. Belle’s father-in-law died less than a year after the trial, aged only 57. In May 1891 her husband became the 5th Earl of Clancarty, and Belle assumed the title of Countess of Clancarty. The couple had five children, including the 6th and 7th Earls of Clancarty.

Belle with her twin sons Richard and Henry, born Devember 1891. Photographed by Bassano ca. 1893-4. Reproduced courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Sadly, Belle died of cancer on 31 December 1906 at Garbaldy Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, at the age of only 39. Carte-de-visite portraits of her – both in theatrical costume and as herself – are fairly easy to find and so it is tempting to consider building up a collection of these. Belle’s short life is intriguing for anyone with an interest in late Victorian theatre, and there is something inspiring – and remarkably topical – about the story of how this young woman refused to be crushed by powerful men who sought to silence her.

 

Ministers of ‘the Black Art’

My newly-submitted thesis, alongside various items involved in its creation

 

Yesterday, on 5 March, I submitted my thesis, Ministers of ‘the Black Art’: the engagement of British clergy with photography, 1839-1914. As many of you know, I’ve been working on my Ph.D since September 2014, but my research into Victorian clergy-photographers stretches back many years prior to this. It was my original intention to write a book on the topic, but when publishers showed no interest and the opportunity arose to apply for doctoral studies, the project was turned into a Ph.D. The viva will follow in a couple of months and we’ll see how that goes, but in due course I expect to adapt the thesis for publication as a book.

Ministers of ‘the black Art’ looks at clergymen from all denominations – Anglican vicars, cathedral precentors, Catholic priests, monks, Methodist missionaries and so on – who were active photographers between 1839 and World War One, exploring the relationship between their religious background and culture, and their photographic work. This is a topic that has been overlooked by both photo-historians and church historians, largely because there are very few researchers who possess sufficient knowledge of both disciplines to make the connections. Having spent many years with my feet planted squarely in both camps, it seemed a good idea to attempt it myself.

Conceptual theories do not interest me, and so the thesis focuses on what people actually did on a grassroots level, looking at original photographic material – paper prints, glass negatives, lantern slides etc – and examining a wealth of printed and manuscript material from archives, museums and libraries all around the country: theological works, printed sermons, diaries, correspondence, exhibition catalogues, photographic society log books and ephemera. I managed to identify over 200 clergymen-photographers (and yes, it’s a shame that they’re all men – but inevitable given the period in question) and amassed a huge amount of information about their work. I think this project can contribute a great deal to our understanding of Victorian visual culture and I have really enjoyed the challenge of shaping my mass of handwritten notes (some written last century) into an ordered argument. It’s been hard work, and I won’t deny that finally submitting my thesis brings with it a sense of relief, unburdening and liberation. Time now to prepare for the viva, and also crack on with other projects. Further developments will be announced here….

Rev. Roderick C Macleod, 'Mitford Castle with Mrs Macleod'

Rev. Roderick C Macleod, ‘Mitford Castle with Mrs Macleod’

Heavitree’s Hispanic Corner: Richard Ford, calotypes and ‘the annals of the artists of spain’

Richard Ford’s grave in Heavitree. Photograph by the author.
Tucked away under a tree in the churchyard of St Michael’s, Heavitreee, by the edge of a path I once walked on a near-daily basis, lies the resting place of Richard Ford (1796-1858), Hispanicist, writer, art collector and historian. After spending several long sojourns in Spain in the early 1830s he moved to Exeter to be near his brother James Ford (1797-1877), later a Canon of Exeter Cathedral. After Richard bought Heavitree House in the summer of 1834, he filled it with books, antiques and artwork that he had brought back from Spain, and laid the gardens out using Moorish designs and artefacts.

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The house, sad to say, was demolished by the council after WWII and the site is now occupied by a housing estate. Photograph by the author.
In 1840 Richard Ford met the Scottish writer and art historian Sir William Stirling (later Stirling-Maxwell, and 9th Baronet of Pollok (1818-78), who had also travelled in Spain and shared Ford’s deep interest in Spanish art and artists. The two men began corresponding on the topic. Ford’s Handbook for Travellers in Spain (1845) proved highly popular, and was reprinted in 1847, the year before Sir William’s four volume Annals of the Artists of Spain was published. This was the first scholarly history of Spanish art in English, and was chiefly responsible for making known the works of  El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Ribera and Murillo. It was, moreover, the first book on art to be illustrated with photographs. The first three volumes featured texts by Stirling Maxwell, whilst the fourth was a supplement of illustrations printed in a limited edition of 50 copies for his circle of friends and family. Sir William had taken a camera lucida on his first trip to Spain and used this as a drawing aid, but it is possible that his inspiration for using the calotype process to illustrate his book came from seeing Talbot’s Sun Pictures of Scotland (1845) or the earlier Pencil of Nature (1844.) Hill & Adamson were also commissioned to produce calotype images for the volume, but – for various reasons – their work was not included.

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One of the images from the fourth volume of ‘Annals of the Artists of Spain’ (London: John Ollivier, 1848)
There were 68 photographs in all, taken by Nicholas Henneman using Talbot’s calotype process. Henneman had entered Talbot’s service in 1826 but was later trained by him as a photographer and placed in charge of the printing establishment at Reading. Many of the Spanish photographs were made from the original paintings, which had to be photographed outdoors in the sunshine due to the long exposure times required. When this was impossible, existing engravings were used. Several artworks were borrowed from Richard Ford, who died of Bright’s Disease ten years later at Heavitree House on 31 August 1858.

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Ford’s headstone, with the inscription ‘Rerum Hispaniae indagator acerrimus’ – Most keen investigator of all things Spanish. Photograph taken by author, in very bright sunshine!
A set of the Annals of the Artists of Spain was retained at Pollok House, Sir William’s mansion in Glasgow, and a place very familiar from my childhood: in addition to regular visits to the parkland surrounding the house, my parents often went to dinner dances there, and I got to see inside the house from time to time. I still have distinct memories of seeing prints by Goya and Piranesi around the walls. When I began working in the Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library, the Stirling Maxwell collection of emblem books became a favourite haunt, second only to the early photographic collections. Sir William’s fascination with emblem literature led him to collaborate with Richard’s brother, Canon James Ford, on the book ‘Ut Pictura poesis,’ or An attempt to explain, in verse, the Emblemata Horatiana of Otho Vaenius (London, 1875.) The preface and epigrams were written by Ford, while Stirling-Maxwell provided bibliographical notes.
​The Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid is currently running an exhibition about Sir William’s volume – but Copied by the Sun/Copiado por el sol: Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain closes tomorrow, so you’ll need to hurry if you want to catch it! Otherwise, there’s a massive catalogue published to accompany the exhibition, and the following are also well worth reading if anyone wishes to learn more:

Hilary Macartney, ‘William Stirling and the Talbotype volume of the Annals of the Artists of Spain.
History of Photography 30:4 (2006) pp.291-308
‘The Reproduction of Spanish Art: Hill and Adamson’s calotypes and Sir William Stirling-Maxwell’s Annals of the Artists of Spain.’
Studies in Photography (2005), pp. 16-23.Gilbert, E.W. ‘

Richard Ford and His Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain
The Geographical Journal Vol. 106, No. 3/4 (Sep-Oct 1945), pp. 144-15
Radford, Cecily. ‘Richard Ford (1796-1858) and his Handbook for Travellers in Spain.’
Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. 90, (1958) pp.146-166

Moving Images, Still Photography

Henry Lehrmann with a folding camera (probably a Premo Pony) in ‘Making a Living’ (Lehrman, 1914), Charlie Chaplin’s first movie
On Sunday I travelled up to the historic village of Lacock to give a talk about the way photography has been depicted in the movies, discussing over 100 films from 1914 (above) to the present day. My talk was delivered in the village hall, just a few hundred yards from Lacock Abbey where William Henry Fox Talbot produced the earliest surviving photographic negative in the summer of 1835.

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Lacock Village Hall, with the spire of St Cyriac’s peeking up behind

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Sign above the door; unsure if my talk could be classed as entertainment, but hopefully the audience enjoyed it as much as I did
My talk looked at the way photography has been portrayed in the movies, focussing on three main areas : 1) hardware – trying to identify the cameras used, and discussing the accuracy of the models 2) processes – were the film-makers interested in the working methods of photographers, such as as how to hold and shoot a camera, or darkroom techniques? 3) the photographer as a personality – how do the movies portray photographers as people? are their characters generally positive or negative? has the pattern changed over the decades?

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Rosina da Silva (Minnie Driver) solves one of the most problematic challenges faced by pioneer photographers such as Talbot – the fading of prints – in ‘The Governess’ (Goldbacher, 1998)

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Danny Lean (James Cagney) swaps his gun for a Leica II in ‘The Picture Snatcher’ (Bacon, 1933) as former criminal tries to go straight.
The talk took a roughly chronological approach, but was arranged thematically too, with sections discussing different categories of photographer: the amateur (including spies and criminals), commercial worker (portrait studio, glamour), press – both paparazzi and investigative reporters – with a special slot for war journalism.

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Alec Guiness as Henry D’Ascoyne in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (Hamer, 1949), with his Sanger Shepherd
Dozens of film stills and clips were shown, and a handout listed over 140 movies, with details of the character, actor and camera. The list was by no means exhaustive – there are another thirty odd films in my notes still to be added, and two more films occurred to me while driving to Lacock!

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Bob Hope as baby photographer Ronnie Jackson, operating a Zeiss Ikoflex in My Favourite Brunette (Nugent, 1947)
Although due space was given to iconic films such as ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Blow Up’, I really wanted to showcase as many lesser-known movies as possible.

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The wonderfully-named Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress), shooting Peter Sellers with a Hasselblad in the Bond spoof ‘Casino Royale’ (Hughes et al, 1967)
The sheer range of movies and variety of photographic activities made for a colourful presentation – although few of my photographers were dressed quite as colourfully as Ursula Andress here.

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Carl Boehm as Mark Lewis in ‘Peeping Tom’ (Powell, 1960), one of several films I discussed that depict the dark side of photography

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One of numerous anomalies highlighted in my talk: Ryuichi Sakamoto (Amakasu Masahiko) shooting with an Exakta VXIIa (or b) during a scene set in 1934 – many years before this particular camera was issued.
Like the camera above –  from ‘Rear Window’ (Hitchcock, 1954) – all good things must come to an end, and I wound things to a close after speaking for over ninety minutes, far longer than intended.