Driving through the Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet as a tourist, the dam wall just north of town does not seem worthy of attention, yet a number of historical photographs recently collated confirms the significance of this engineering project which took just short of five years to complete (between 1920 and 1925).
Occasionally South African swop shops (pawn shops) have some historic photographic gems on offer, as was the experience just prior to Covid-19 lockdown at one such Cape Town based swop shop. The owner of the shop went scratching when asked for old photographs by the author.
Out came a box with some significant historical images, amongst them four photographs relating to a single South African maritime catastrophe.
1) Catastrophes photographed
The town of East London, located in the South African Eastern Cape Province, received its name on 14 January 1848 when Sir Harry Smith proclaimed the Buffalo mouth area as the “Port of East London”.
This article certainly deviates from the more serious range of articles on South African photographic history published by the author from time-to-time. An early caution therefore - The images included in this article are not visually aesthetic.
Many, many millions of snapshot photographs were produced by amateur photographers between the 1920s and 1940s - some of which were good, some bad, some provocative, some botched and some indifferent.
The primary purpose of this article is to introduce the first known catalogue of Anglo-Boer war stereo photographs produced by the American based B.W. Kilburn & Company (Version 1 – as at June 2021 - click here to view).
Combined with a brief reflection on Pretoria’s railway history, this article primarily sets out to reflect on the history of the two railway station buildings that were erected at the foot of a hill in Pretoria.
Always in search of historical South African photographs, the author recently obtained a photograph album from an antique dealer in Johannesburg containing images of largely a singular theme, namely the world’s most popular sport - fishing (at least back then).
The album, which was not up for sale, surfaced from a back room with the dealer announcing: “I do not know what to do with these”.
This article is based on the combined resources of the two authors. Carol Hardijzer has an avid interest in 19th Century photography in South Africa and his research and collection of Carl Bluhm photographs compliments the fairly extensive family research conducted by Margaret Addis, great-great granddaughter of Carl Bluhm, an early photographer based in King Williams Town (Qonce today).
Prior to 1902, South Arica had three photographers with the surname Kisch, two of whom were active in the Natal province (Kwazulu-Natal today) and one in the provinces of the Northern Cape and the Orange Free State (Free State today). Each one of them has left a distinct individual impression on South African photographic history.
A Namibian story has it that one morning during the early 1950s two men glided their light aircraft onto a diamond-strewn beach in the Namibian Sperrgebiet (German for no-go or forbidden zone) with the intention of collecting a large amount of diamonds hidden by one of them in rocky outcrops near the beach. On take-off from the beach the aircraft however nose-dived after one of the aircraft’s wheels struck a rock. They were subsequently spotted by the restricted diamond areas’ security personnel and arrested.
Knowingly or unknowingly, South African historians and researchers would have come across a wide variety of original albumen print photographs captured in South Africa during the late 1890s, all of which are titled and numbered followed by the cryptic initials G.W.W.
These photograph titles and numbers with the G.W.W. initials appear in white capital letters across the bottom of each photograph. But who or what was G.W.W.?
Including Revised 1960s Alphabetical Directory of South African based Photographers & Studios (1846 to 1915) - Click here to download.
Shortly after the invention of photography, the camera was briefly referred to as a “Mirror with Memory”, whilst the resulting photographic image was initially referred to as a photogenic drawing.
Antique and vintage photographs are still found on the rare occasion from which a variety of narratives can then be constructed. The purpose of this article is to present a visual narrative using recently discovered discarded photographs.
Every loved domestic dog, no matter how humble their origin, remains the best dog in the world in the eyes of their masters.
We affectionately refer to dogs as our best friend. They also happen to be humankind's oldest "friend" in the animal kingdom in that Canis familiaris, the domestic dog, was the first animal species to be domesticated by humans.
Photographic research, which includes the use of original photographic images, transcends disciplinary borders and combines fields of visual history, visual studies, visual anthropology and art history.
Herein lies an ethical responsibility – the avoidance of stereotypical or abusive representations of people portrayed in these images. Readers, of course, bring their own knowledge, emotions, and imagination, thus no author can fully control how their work is going to be interpreted (Gordon & Kurzwelly, 2018).
Worldwide, where precious mineral resources were discovered, buoyant photographers formed part of the desperate rush that ensued. This trend of fortune seekers, feverish migrating to these newly announced locations was also observed during the South African gold rushes at Pilgrim’s Rest (1873), Barberton (1883) and Johannesburg (1886).
During mid-2019, an exceptional Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) collection of artefacts went up on auction at a Johannesburg based auction house. Photographic images in this collection fetched high prices. However, images that high-end bidders did not pursue with the same vigour were magic lantern slides in the collection. Why would this be?
With reference to the early Durban based photographers Caney, one author recently confirmed the challenge in “disentangling” the relationship between the various Caney individuals.
The number of Caney photographs identified in the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection also confirms that closer scrutiny was required as to who these photographers were. The photographs in this research collection, all dating from prior to 1905, include studio-based images as well as images captured during the Anglo-Boer war.
Always in search of original South African photographic images from before 1915, the author recently acquired several photo albums from this era at a Pretoria based antique fair.
One of these photo album stands out in that the theme is purely tennis-based, spanning over a 4-year period (between 1909 and 1913).
By chance, whilst researching an unrelated topic, Annel Meyer stumbled upon a photograph taken by the Pretoria based photographer Samuel Tweddill around 1880. This photograph was included in an article published on theheritageportal during July 2018 (click here to view).
Toys, like play itself, serve multiple purposes for both humans and animals (just picture the joy created whilst watching a kitten at play with an arbitrary toy).
Toys provide entertainment and fun whilst fulfilling an educational role at the same time. Although unlikely to have been the original intent, they also enhance cognitive behavior, stimulate creativity and aid in the development of physical and mental skills which are necessary in later life.
The last tram journey in Pretoria took place during 1939 - eighty years ago. Therefore, today it may only be citizens born prior to around 1933, who resided in Pretoria at the time, who may recall the tram activity or may even have travelled on a Pretoria tram as a child.
Recently the author acquired a Victorian Photo album which contained a number of Carte-de-Visite format photographs of Berlin Mission Society missionaries, all attached to the German Lutheran church in Berlin (dating from between 1865 and late 1870s).
Many registered trademark ephemera of yesteryear have collectors competing at auctions, markets and antique fairs to find that one elusive, or previously unidentified item for their collections.
On such trademark is Kodak. Registered as a trademark during 1888, Kodak, which was also present in South Africa some years later, undoubtedly was one of the more successful brand names within both the history of marketing and photography.
First National Bank (FNB) just celebrated their 180th birthday on 15 December 2018. What makes this particularly significant is that the FNB storyline runs in parallel with South African history.
Following the true corporate trend, FNB, as it exists today, came about following a complex tapestry of buyouts and amalgamations to become the well-established bank it is today. This journey certainly did not occur without any upheavals – but the bank managed to stand the test of time.
The South African Border War had an immense social, cultural and political impact on South African society at the time. It resulted in unnecessary loss of life and much trauma, not only for the conscripted men, but also families back home.
This article, which focuses solely on South African beach photography prior to 1970s, is an extension on a similar article recently published on South African pavement photography (click here to read).
The primary purpose of this article is to introduce the first known catalogue (Version 1 – as at November 2018 - click here to download) of Anglo-Boer war stereographic images produced by the American based Underwood and Underwood Publishing Group.
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
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.
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.
During Pretoria’s first 20 years of existence it had no public parks. The only spaces accessible to the public at the time were the Church and Market squares.
As early as 1874, the space where Burgers Park is located today, was allocated to become Pretoria’s first botanical garden.
Today a declared heritage site, the park was only officially named Burgers Park during 1894.
The first 10 years (1874 to 1884)
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.
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.
For a greater part of the 19th century, abundant and large herds of game were common in the interior of South Africa, resulting in it becoming a “sportsman’s” paradise
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.
Worldwide early photographs have enjoyed a restoration to their rightful position in the history of art, photography and people – especially in Europe, America and Australia. Sadly, antique photographs (more than 100 years old) are still insufficiently preserved and appreciated in South Africa.
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.
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.”
Historians, researchers and collectors often come across situations of surviving family members having thrown away or having destroyed historical family documents and photographs as they may either have no sentimental interest or simply cannot relate to their relative’s historical past. Sadly, in these instances, no thought is given to donating such documentation / items to charity organisations where researchers and collectors in turn can “scratch” out relevant material to record potential significant historical information that may be contained therein.
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.
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.
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.
Rarely are 19th century photographers as famous as their subjects. Sadly, in many instances, little is known about these creative artists who ventured into this art form – be they female or male photographers.
The purpose of this article is therefore to reflect on female photographers who were active in South Africa in this art form prior to 1915 as the majority of their work has largely gone unnoticed.
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.
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.