Sunday, 30 November 2014

Isle of Wight photo tours - Victorian-style

With the sheer ease of photography nowadays, it's easy to forget the complications that the hobby presented in the late 1800s. I just found a nice batch of Photographic News articles in which amateur photographers of the time describe their Isle of Wight visits. The details are sometimes geeky, but often interesting in their descriptions of the technical problems and general impressions of the Wight by Victorian photographers.

In 1859, the correspondent "Iota" had a jaundiced view of Ryde accommodation and of the spectacle of Shanklin Chine:
On the day I arrived at Ryde I was assured that there was not a bed to be had in the whole town, and that only a few nights before strangers had been glad to take up their lodging in bathing machines, and even then a considerable number were wandering about the town all night.
Shanklin Chine—the great curiosity of the island. It is simply a cleft in the land, with its widest part towards the sea, and narrowing upwards to the end, where the so-called waterfall trickles over the cliff. This waterfall is a delusion, and those who conceive an image of it in their minds from the picture given of it in those exaggerated publications to which I have already referred, will be disappointed, as the volume of water which falls under ordinary circumstances is about equal to what would fall from the cistern of a shower-bath if seven-tenths of its holes were stopped up.
- The Isle of Wight from a Photographic Point of View, Photographic News, August 19 1859, pages 284-285.
The week after, "Iota" visited Carisbrooke Castle, noting the extensive graffiti:
The adjoining building, said to have been the governor's house, in which Charles was confined subsequent to his attempt, is included in the negative, but there is nothing very interesting in its appearance. It is inside this you see that travellers have indulged the mania for writing their names to its fullest extent. Every inch of the wall is covered with the names, and sometimes the addresses, of persons who have visited it, one lady from America having inscribed hers about ten times; others have added to their names a scrap of doggrel poetry like the following, written by an individual who modestly subscribes himself as the Queen's Osborne poet:—
"Dear old Kingsland, though far from thee we roam,
Yet me and old Chapman will soon be at home."
The inscriptions, though, which are peculiarly adapted to send a thrill of envy through the bachelor bosom, when he finds himself reading them alone and solitary on a bright sunshiny day, are those which inform all comers that Edwin and Emma Ringdove, or Edwin and Angelina Turtle, visited this place in the course of their wedding tour. Inscriptions like these are very numerous, and would seem to prove that the Isle of Wight is a favourite resort for newly-married couples; probably from their feeling that they will be more isolated from the world in a little island than they would be on the mainland.
- The Isle of Wight from a Photographic Point of View, Photographic News, August 26 1859, pages 294-296.
"Iota" later mentions long-forgotten camera technology in relation to trying to photograph the Needles ...
To see them to advantage they must be seen from the sea, and to photograph them from this direction would require Mr. Skaife's gun camera, and a subsequent enlargement of the negative by means of Mr. Woodward's solar camera—which, by the way, must give a better picture than the only one I have seen printed by it, or I should not attach much value to its possession.
-  The Isle of Wight from a Photographic Point of View (part 1), Photographic News, September 16, 1859, pages 22-23.
... and moves on to views about crime and punishment:
The village of Brading is a miserable-looking place in reality, but it makes a very good picture. I took a stereoscopic negative of a part of it where the street widens out, and among the pictures I propose to send you, you will perceive this, the most remarkable thing in it being the massive iron ring let into the ground, which ring was placed there in the good old times for the purpose of attaching the bull to it when baiting him. This has long been disused; but there is another relic of antiquity which is still occasionally used in the baiting of drunken and riotous individuals, via., the stocks. I was assured that during the time that the fair is held it is very common to see a couple of individuals, guilty of drunkenness and disorderly conduct, thus compelled to give leg bail; they being liberated without further punishment when the constable considers they had been imprisoned long enough. In spite of all that has been said on the subject of the barbarity of using this ancient instrument of punishment, it may very well be questioned whether it is not on the whole a more satisfactory method of punishing such delinquencies than sending a man to prison, and throwing the burden of supporting his family on the ratepayers during his incarceration.
-  The Isle of Wight from a Photographic Point of View (part 1), Photographic News, September 23, 1859, pages 33-34.
Skaife is worth checking out, as a pioneer of the portable rapid-exposure handheld camera. His 1860 book Instantaneous photography, mathematical and popular, including practical instructions on the manipulation of the pistolgraph (Google Books o20DAAAAQAAJ) has full details. There's an anecdote that Skaife was nearly arrested for pointing the camera, which resembled a pistol, at Queen Victoria, and so lost the photo through having to open the camera to show police what it was. As "Iota" mentions, the problem was that the pistolgraph produced a tiny negative by Victorian standards. To get the sustained and strong light source for optical enlargement, there were various setups using sunlight, notably David Acheson Woodward's 'solar camera'.

Another correspondent, "Photographic Tourist" has a lighter touch:
I was introduced to a certain eccentric major, one of the most ardent and successful followers of our art, of whom I heard the following good story :— It seems he had built a van of most professional appearance, to aid his favourite pursuit, and when at Shanklin one day, was accosted by a party, "I say, governor, what do you charge for taking likenesses?" The major, it was said, looked unutterable things; but the party still persisting in his request, was at last answered as follows: " — it, sir," said the irate man of war, "do you think, because you look like a tailor, it would be any excuse for my asking you what you charge for making breeches?" The roars of laughter this anecdote was received with are still ringing in my ears, but the easy, cool way our eccentric friend took the joke, I must say, excited my envy; he merely twirled his long moustache, -and quietly asked the narrator, "Well, old fellow, and what would you have done?" "Why," replied his friend, "taken the man's likeness, and charged him five bob." "And spent it in brandy and water, I suppose," returned the major.
- "Photographic Tourist" - a photographic visit to the Isle of Wight in 1860, Photographic News, December 14, 1860, pages 389-390.
- Ray

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