Now you don’t see them, now you do
Posted 23 October, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker
Interesting though today’s subject might be in this instance interesting is also a euphemism for “help, I haven’t got a clue!”. Bartholomew were unquestionably pioneers in their field, experimenting with colour, technique and design but what they achieved in these images is well beyond my expertise.
This is a sheet of eight, incredibly beautiful views, based on photographs taken by leading Scottish photographers. 2020 sheets were printed by Bartholomew on the 6th June 1882 although unhelpfully there is little else to go on in the Archive. According to the sheet they were produced for blog favourites MacNiven & Cameron, who cropped up in May with their outrageous stationery (When a Ballpoint just won’t do). Just what MacNiven & Cameron planned to do with them is unclear but postcards are a distinct possibility.
The works of three photographers are represented. Arguably the most famous is George Washington Wilson renowned as a pioneer of photography in Scotland and famous for the poignant image of a grief stricken Queen Victoria upon her horse accompanied by John Brown. James Valentine also appears, with images taken from photographs of the Dundee area for which he was so famous. Again quite poignantly, Valentine is perhaps best remembered for the images taken of the Tay Bridge following its collapse in 1879. This was a monumental failure of engineering a result of which 75 people lost their lives, faith in progress was shaken, a landscape was dramatically altered and dubious poetry was inspired. These photographs would ghoulishly go on to be made into postcards but had been originally taken with the more honourable intention of being used as evidence in the official court inquiry. The third photographer is Peter MacFarlane who, as you can see if you’ve been following the links, has the distinction of being the only one without a Wikipedia page! His work appears to be less well known even though, in his own eyes, he was an official Royal photographer.
Neither Wilson nor Valentine suffered this fate with substantial archives in existence comprised of their phenomenal output. I cannot recommend highly enough a tour of Wilson’s work via the pages of the University of Aberdeen Photographic Archive and of Valentine’s via the University of St. Andrews Photographic Archive. In fact it was by doing just this that I came to be intrigued by the technique involved.
The above image captures the life of the people of Corpach, huddled under the looming protection of Ben Nevis. It was taken by Wilson, though the exact date is unknown, and is very practically called Ben Nevis from Corpach. A comparison with the original reveals one telling difference though, in the original the people aren’t actually there. Exactly the same is true of a Valentine image called Inverlochy Castle and Ben Nevis. Whilst ostensibly the same photograph there are suddenly a couple of figures frolicking on the pebble beach in the foreground.
It is an interesting technique in that it produces an astonishingly beautiful effect. It is akin to a soft focus filtering already soft light. Yet how was it achieved and why the inclusion of the figures? Was it to add interest, did the lack thereof fail to satisfy MacNiven & Cameron’s artistic sensibilities, was it to avoid copyright infringements by claiming them as something new? Whatever the reason though the images remain undoubtedly lovely.