The Borders Of Victorian Knowledge


No, not the state of Victoria – the time of Victoria. Latter half of the 19th century. Cradle of Photography. Swirling mists and primeval optical monsters and all that sort of thing. When men were men and chemicals were chemicals and it was a battle to see who would triumph. You might think that it had little similarity to today’s digital world…but you’d be wrong.

You see, the first workers in photography had little idea what they were doing. They depended upon hearsay to keep them up to date about the latest developments. Frequently the people that they listened to as ” experts ” were as ignorant as they themselves and false theory was repeated until it became gospel. Does this remind you of your average internet forums? Makes you wonder if there was a broadsheet being hawked around Layton Abbey entitled ” Fox Talbot Rumours “.

Another characteristic of the Victorian worker was the tendency to learn just the basics of the process then rush out and slap up advertising bills to draw customers for paid sittings. The itinerant photographer or pop-up studio made a bit of money for a time and then prices fell and the game failed to pay anyone. Again, does this seem familiar?

In my case, having gone through the first fine rush of film photography many decades ago, the digital bit has proved to a more sedate thing. Sort of a slower-motion train crash, if you will. I glory in the facility with which one can record grumpy cats or restaurant meals nowadays but I do find that I am now sharing something that the first workers had…the ability to lose myself in a process.

FIlms used to be simple – dev, stop, fix, wash, dry, toss in bin. Perfectly straightforward work flow.

Now the shoot, download, open in Photoshop Elements sequence is even easier, but once the shopping begins the mind goes. I have a number of editing programs and plug-ins and the long line of transformations can sometimes get well past remembering. If something good happens, it is frequently a unique piece – I cannot say how to reproduce it. I suppose I should accept this with gratitude as the evidence art…but I know it is just the result of never leaving well-enough alone.

I wonder what this button does…?

* The girl? She started out as Yamina in the raw file but I have no idea who she has become at this stage. I’m guessing 1922 or 1923 Folies Bergere.


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