Historic Photographs

I recently came across the souvenir album Barnett's Views of Johannesburg and Suburbs. I photographed a panoramic view of the early town (in three sections) and thought I would share it. The book has no date but the look of the cover, very art nouveau design with floral garland, and the street scenes and buildings leads me to believe that it was published in the late 1890s or early 1900s.

In a recent article published by the author (click here to view), reference was made to a modern photographic phenomenon, namely “found photographs”. In short: “Found photographs” are discarded vintage photographs typically found at charity stores, car boot sales, flea markets or antique fairs. As a single image, any “found” or the converse thereof, “lost” photograph, has sadly lost its original context when viewed by a total str

In May 2018 Robyn Keet, our picture library manager at the time, teamed up with the PhotoZA Gallery in Rosebank Mall, Johannesburg, to create an exhibition of photography that covered the apartheid period in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1980s. DocuFest Africa: The Exhibition, showcased at times rare and unusual images of life in South Africa taken by leading photographers at the height of apartheid. Curated by Reney Warrington, the Exhibition was drawn from collections represented by Africa Media Online.

I recently came across a remarkable set of 33 period coloured and monochrome postcards of Johannesburg (click here to view). The postcards date from somewhere between 1904 and 1908. They are photographic images and show street and architectural views of Johannesburg in the Edwardian period. They were published and printed by a company called Braune and Levy of Johannesburg.

Recently the author was in Port Elizabeth searching for photographic material at book dealers, used goods and antique shops in town. At one of these stores he posed his standard question to a dealer: “Do you have any old photo-stories”? With the dealer not understanding the question, the author then explained what they were. To which the dealer responded: “Oh, you are referring to Café Bibles!”.

This article reflects on the influence of South African ethno-photographs on the picture postcard industry together with a reflection on their individual histories.

Most picture postcards at the turn of the 19th century had a strong photographic theme where publishers of the picture postcard relied on the original photograph for commercial purposes.

1. Introduction

During the early commercially embryonic era of photography, photographers from all over the world attempted to generate an income from this new art form. Many aspirational photographers arrived and settled in South Africa from countries such as Ireland, England, Australia, Switzerland, Holland, Latvia and Germany, to mention but a few. 

Rudolf Gottfried Steger was born in Germany on 11 March 1871. He left his country of birth aged 10 to attend school in Switzerland and then went on to complete four years of religious studies in Rome. Whilst in Switzerland, he also trained as a medical assistant at the Red Cross in Geneva – a skill that would later come in handy.

Steger arrived in South Africa during 1894 and became a naturalised burger (citizen) whilst based in Paarl during 1896. He established his first studio in Pretoria during 1898 aged 27.

In the early 1960s the Apartheid Government declared Pageview a white suburb (using the Groups Areas Act) and a decade later the bulldozers began their work. Residents were removed to Lenasia while many traders took up space at the Oriental Plaza. It was during this time that Franco Frescura set out to document some of the spaces, places and people of the area. Below are a few photos from 1973 that may interest readers. No captions have been added. If you recognise a person or building please post a comment below the article.

 

A modern photographic phenomenon that has emerged is “found photographs” – these include everyday snapshot photographs taken by others years ago, but have subsequently been discarded. These discarded photographs can today be bought up cheaply by photographic curators at car boot sales, charity organisations, fairs or auctions (online auctions included). These photographs are typically found in old photo albums, boxes with photo-odds or photo sleeves holding old prints.

This wonderful album was published by Paul Schaefer and Company of Cape Town, a well-known compiler of souvenir books. The cover photograph in the oval inset shows the original Park Station which came to Johannesburg from the Netherlands in 1896. The station was designed by Jacob Klinkhammer. It was the point of arrival for visitors to Johannesburg in the early 20th century so this image is an appropriate entry portal to the town.

 

Established during 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest magistrate district in South Africa. At the time, this town was also the most important Eastern Cape based interior centre of trade in South Africa in that it was on the route of many travellers, mainly to and from the Algoa Bay harbour.

Drawing on a rare collection of souvenir photographic printed albums of Johannesburg, dating from the period approximately 1890 to 1910, we are able to build up a composite picture of Johannesburg's main thoroughfares, buildings and street life. These visual images show how Johannesburg's founding and growth coincided with the coming of age of photography.

Distinctly superior compared to many other photographs, the lady in the photograph is elegant and clearly a well-to-do individual. The name inscribed in the album – Hilda Duckitt - Who is she? 

In a pre-1910 photographic family album recently acquired by the author, two images were found of Hildagonda (Hilda) Duckitt taken at different stages in her life. 

The value of the photographic postcard, a unique historical document in itself, has been vastly underestimated by historians. Today, these types of photographs are of immense value in both photographic as well as social historical research.

It was not until recently that the author himself started to incorporate these long-undervalued photographic formats, also commonly referred to as the Real Photo Postcard (RPPC), into his own photographic research collection.

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