The history around photography and photographers active in South Africa during the mid-1880s to early 1910s remains a vastly untapped field of research.
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.
In a previous article on the Neilson brothers, the author states: “It is still not clear whether the Neilson brothers were South African or potentially foreign photographers who saw a commercial opportunity in photographing the South Africa deep-level mines.”
The value of the photographic postcard, a unique historical document in itself, has been vastly underestimated by historians.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.
Huge was the surprise when the author received multiple enquiries on a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp photograph that was included in a recent article on photography during the Anglo-Boer war (click here to view).
This Diyatalawa PoW camp photograph has the names of all 54 men captured on the back thereof (See Photo 5 below).
Joseph Calder Munro, a Scot by birth, made a significant contribution to Pretoria’s photographic history. Many of his photographs have survived and can be found in various national and private research collections. Photographs produced by him still surface on a regular basis - mainly at antique fairs.
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.
On a recent journey through the Karoo, the author obtained more than 1500 unusual photographic glass plates – just imagine the total weight of all these photographs.
Following my earlier post on T D Ravenscroft (click here to view), I have delved a little further into a couple of online archives and printed bibliographic records.
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.
Jannie Roggeband, a Dutch citizen, was a field ambulance volunteer during the Anglo Boar War (1899-1902). Roggeband had a powerful accolade published in the Ficksburg community newspaper on 4 January 1923, a few days after the death of General George Alfred Brand (10 February 1875 – 24 December 1922). General Brand, one of President and Lady Brand’s 11 children, passed away at the young age of 47. A family photograph circa 1882, in the author’s collection, shows George and his older siblings, 7 of which were boys.
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.
Human behaviour that deviates from the norm has always incurred curiosity. It is thus unsurprising to discover that photography was used to capture images of the mentally ill as early as 1848.
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.