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Read, Watch and Listen

(c) Briony Campbell, no title, translation of Heather's image, 29 April – 6 May 2015:

"I wanted to represent Heather's vision of water, sky and leaves. Taking the clouds directly I fused them with a tree. I interpreted her plant pots as the domestic element; at once giving the plants the love they need to grow but also asserting ownership of natural things. So in my translation the pots became a human holding tight to the tree. Where Heather repeated the plant pot motif, I took the lights on the horizon of my original seascape and floated them into the sky as stars. The image is a collage of three of my own photos (involving long exposures) and one element of Heather's image.” www.brionycampbell.com

(c) Anna Cady, no title, translation of Matt's image, 13-20 May 2015:

“A funeral urn? Cremating, containing or representing the body? Black. Luminous. A sinister fairy tale. Hand made and performative. Air and fire inside the body as vessel. Air as breath. Internal and external. Containing and representing air simultaneously? Transforming ‘air’ into a solid ‘thing’. I perceive the central part of the vessel in Matt’s photograph as being made of glass. The colour, beauty and fragility of the projected, reflected colours in my film-still is as if it is to be seen as, or made of, glass. Just before it melts.” www.annacady.com

(c) Domingo Martínez, no title, translation of Anna's image, 20-27 May 2015:

“I perceive Anna’s image as a metaphor of wish and desire, but also of nostalgia and melancholy. The hand waiting for someone or for something to hold, or maybe just to be held. It reminded me of a photograph I bought in a flea market, which showed an arm from the same angle and a hand holding a child’s hand. I took that piece of the picture and drew it separately to express my own feelings. Then I reproduced the atmosphere in Anna’s picture, which I found very close to the nostalgic feeling I wanted to show, a feeling linked to a memory.” www.domingomartinez.es 

Family Group, Tintype, circa 1880

This is a typical 2¾x3½” framed tintype where the specificity of the seaside is hardly signified. The sea wall is used as backdrop, which was a common device in early seaside photography. The wall provided a natural light diffuser, thus preventing over exposure in harsh sunlight. The intergenerational group of sitters are dressed formally and relationships signified by the subtle touch of the central man’s hand on the shoulder of the seated female.

Two Boys in a Goatcart, Tintype, circa 1880

Goatcarts were popular Victorian entertainment rides for children at the seaside and these two boys typify similar images circa 1880. They do not smile, the cart is still and the sea wall offers a stark and static backdrop for the camera’s slow shutter speed. Images such as this, whilst commonly referred to as tintypes are actually ferrotypes – a direct positive image on enamelled iron.

Family Group, Ambrotype

This is a seaside ambrotype – a glass plate positive image. Ambrotypes were from the 1880s largely superseded by the American imported tintype. It was obvious to see why, the tintype whilst in many ways inferior, was cheaper, lighter and obviously far more durable than glass. Clearly pragmatics such as cost, speed and material resilience took precedence. But both ambrotype and tintype offered instant gratification – photographs taken and finished while the Victorian client waited.​

Unframed Family Group, Tintype

This unframed tintype is taken at the coast, with the beach and sea wall present. To further indicate place, seaside paraphernalia of buckets, spades and bonnets are either held or laid out. Indicative of somewhat slapdash photographic practice, the fishing net pokes out absurdly from the father’s head. The image is at once formal, but made informal by the (mis)placed net and further ‘softened’ by the boy in the back row beginning to move into a half-smile.​

Family Group with Photographer's Darkcart, Tintype

This typical family grouping interestingly includes the photographer’s own darkcart / darkbox in the upper portion of the image. This handcart held not only all the paraphernalia required to produce the photograph, but also acted vitally as a darkroom. On the side of the cart, as we see here, would be displays of previous portraits and thus such simple wooden handcarts functioned as hybridised studios, dark-boxes and galleries on wheels.

Family Group with Photographer's Diffuser, Tintype

This unsmiling family group show yet another of the photographer’s tools - the diffuser. This would be used to soften fierce sunlight and eradicate harsh shadows. Whilst the mother and father collectively hold the child steady, the photographer’s assistant can be seen at the edge of frame holding the improvised diffuser. Usefully for us, the photographer has unintentionally captured not only the equipment, but also the assistant’s legs and the diffuser’s clear cast.

Mother and Child on a Bathing Machine, Ambrotype

While the smile might be absent or restrained in early commercial seaside photography; tenderness is not. Surviving modest ambrotypes such as this of a mother and child on the steps of a bathing machine, counter connotations of the ambro’ and tintype as disposable shoreline amusement. Rather than cheap seaside ephemera, a revised consideration might be offered, whereby these modest portraits became important affordable keepsakes.