Historic Photographs

Which one of the two above is the happier sitter? Would it be old Hottentot on the left (Carte-de-Visite photograph by Port Elizabeth based photographer J.E. Bruton- Circa 1878) or the lady with the comical facial expression (Carte-de-Visite format photograph – photographer unknown – Circa 1880)? Psychology students often have to attempt to link an emotion to the expression observed in others. Could her expression be viewed as anger, disgust, embarrassment or simply laughter that is being suppressed?

In researching this article, it became evident that hardly any photographer active during the Anglo-Zulu War (AZW) period has been written about. In the majority of sources consulted, photographers also generally have not been acknowledged where their work was used – be that as photographers out in the field or studio based photographers. This may be a simple matter of us not being aware of who the photographers were in the majority of instances.

Most photographers at the turn of the last century were upstanding and hard-working citizens, however, there is always the exception. This article is about one such exception, namely the photographer Maximillian Alfred Daubert who was based in towns such as Wakkerstroom, Reitz and Pietermaritzburg. Daubert who often clashed with the law, spent many months in local jails, due to various criminal transgressions.

Little recognition has been given to Henri Ferdinand Gros for his outstanding contribution to the South African photographic history between 1869 and 1890. No other photographer has contributed to the then Transvaal photographic history like Gros. Without the Gros photographs, we would not have had an idea of what Pretoria looked like between 1875 and 1890. Gros certainly had the insight to identify the value of pictorial documentation.

Photography is the only “language” that is understood worldwide, resulting in a bridge being created between nations and cultures – it connects the family of humanity. Independent of political influence – where people are free – it provides us with an honest reflection about life and events, allows us to share in the hope, joy and despair of others, and potentially lightens political and social burdens. This way we become witnesses, not only of humanity, but also of the brutality of human kind (Gernsheim as quoted in Sontag 1977).

South African mining photographs from as early as 1870 have been identified. These early diamond surface mining activity photographs were taken by Weber & Sederstrom at New Rush (Kimberley). When gold was found in Johannesburg some 14 years later (1884), it was initially not difficult to mine as the gold was found near the surface and prospectors had many laborers to assist them with the digging.

The first permanent photograph to have been recorded was taken by the Frenchman Niépce during 1826 (after an eight-hour exposure). A fellow countryman, Daguerre, perfected the capturing of a permanent image by inventing the first practical photographic process during 1839. This photographic end result became known as the Daguerreotype.

Carol Hardijzer is passionate about South African Photographica – anything and everything to do with the history of photography. He not only collects anything relating to photography, but conducts extensive research in this field. He has published a variety of articles (click here to view) on this topic and is currently doing research on South African based photographers from before 1910. He has one of the largest private photographic collections in South Africa.

Photographs produced on thin iron sheets? Yes, indeed! And it was cheap, even cheaper than the equivalent middle-class, paper based Carte de Visite. Photos on these thin iron sheets were actually referred to as a ‘plebian photographic end result’.

From their origin in the 1850s until the end of the twentieth century and beyond, these photographs remained popular because they were so inexpensive.

As a collector and researcher of Anglo Boer war related images the author, on occasions, finds original letters or newspaper clippings that relate to the “sitter” (person in the photograph) who was either a participant in the Boer War or simply a citizen caught up in the war.

Photographs in themselves tell stories, but to find personal letters either written by, or addressed to, the sitter enriches the story. The author feels compelled to record some of these personal stories – like this one:

Stereo photography is a craze that has swept the world since 1851, so much so that modern View Masters are still being produced commercially today. Stereo images (two photographs of the same subject, taken from slightly different angles but covering the same subject area, and mounted side by side) must be viewed through a special viewer where the two images then fuse into one giving a visual impression of subject depth – or a three dimensional effect.

I was recently given four photographs of early 20th century Cape Town. They are all in sepia brown shades. The dimensions are 8.5 x 11.30 inches. The edges of the photos are in poor condition but the main scenes are clearly visible. I would love to date these photographs.

They are clearly from the photographic studio of TP Ravenscroft and the one of Sea Point has a stamp on the reverse TD Ravenscroft. 

 

Death, or more specifically images of the dead, remind us of our own mortality. During the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, photography played a vital role in capturing images of loved ones, not only whilst alive, but also at the time of their death.

Where citizens could not afford a painted portrait of a loved one, photography was a cheaper and quicker alternative, providing the middle class with a photographic image in memory of a loved one who had passed away.

Since South Africa’s first professional photographer, Julius Leger, established himself in Port Elizabeth during 1846, both local and international photographers who foresaw commercial opportunities in this newly established art form, as well as missionaries, anthropologists, soldiers, explorers and traders have contributed to the spread of photography into the interior of South Africa.

H Ferdinand Gros was of Swiss origin. He arrived in South Africa circa 1869. On July 16th 1870 he was advertising that the Photographic Salon 'will resume again' in the 'Burgherdorp Gazette'. In the 'Diamond News' on March 9th 1872 he announced that he was taking over the studio of Weber and Gros and that he would soon open a 'Superb Salon' at New Rush (Kimberley). The New Rush studio was advertised for sale in 'Diamond News' 13th April 1872.

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