Historic Photographs

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.

The article below on the life and achievements of John Thomas Cooper first appeared in a 1983 edition of Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

A few years ago we were involved in a battle to save historic Nedbank documents that were being thrown away by the company. For a while the future of the documents looked bleak but thankfully the story had a happy ending when top Nedbank executives got involved. The documents were moved to the Sandton head office and the execs committed to hire an archivist to go through the collection. The execs also committed to let the community know what was found and what would then be done with the documents.*

Above is a postcard of an SAA Airways or Suid-Afrikaanse-Lugdiens DC-7B aircraft. This post card came my way when it fell out of a book I bought recently. The reverse is blank, so it was never sent and simply says "with the compliments of South African Airways” (in English and Afrikaans). The interest to me is the backdrop of Johannesburg viewed from the air. The challenge is to date the photograph. The central iconic building is Escom House (completed in 1937 and demolished /imploded in 1984) and the view is in a westerly or north westerly direction.

A few years ago a wonderful collection of old documents was found in the basement of a Johannesburg inner city building while the tenant (Nedbank) was moving out. One of the boxes we looked at contained details of Nedbank's 50th anniversary celebrations (circa 1938). It was here we found a remarkable set of images of a few Town / City Halls around the country. It appears as though the photographs were taken in the late 1930s. Enjoy...

 

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