52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 41: All is not as it seems…

For our ‘April Fool’ post, we decided not to attempt the creation of a spoof medieval manuscript or late 14th century Scottish printed book, tempting though it was….

Instead, we offer proof that the old adage that ‘the camera never lies’ is not, and never was, true, even before the days of digital wizardry. From the earliest days of photography skilled (and sometime not-so-skilled) practitioners of the art have attempted to fool the viewer, and to use the lens to distort reality. The airbrush may be a modern tool, but the concept is as old as photography itself. Below are some fine examples from our collection of photographic deceit, humorous compositions and “Photoshopping” before Photoshop. We hope you get a laugh out of these (we sure did!)!

“Fisherwomen baiting lines, Fishergate, North Street, St Andrews” by Hill & Adamson, 1847 (St Andrews ALB-6-91)

“Fisherwomen baiting lines, Fishergate, North Street, St Andrews” by Hill & Adamson, 1847 (St Andrews ALB-6-91)

Even in its earliest days there was an element of subterfuge about the photograph. The famous St Andrews ‘Fishergate’ photographs (1847) of Robert Adamson and D.O. Hill portray a sense of motion and activity, largely through the movement of the young woman walking across the street with her basket: but, of course, due to the long exposure needed to make this image she must have stood stock-still for at least a minute or two to allow the slow exposure to catch her without blurring.

“Potato Head” by Dr John Adamson, 1855. (St Andrews ALB-6-158)

“Potato Head” by Dr John Adamson, 1855. (St Andrews ALB-6-158)

“Mock battle tableau” between stuffed birds and fish, military figurines, toby jug and human head plaques by Dr John Adamson, 1860.  (St Andrews ALB-49-45-2)

“Mock battle tableau” between stuffed birds and fish, military figurines, toby jug and human head plaques by Dr John Adamson, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-49-45-2)

Dr John Adamson, the famous pioneer of photography, used a potato and his sense of humour to create this ‘portrait’, and set up a mock battle using specimens from the Museum of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, c. 1855-60.

“The Sick Baby,” a humorous portrait of Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (left) and Professor William Macdonald, 1855. (St Andrews ALB-6-131-1)

“The Sick Baby,” a humorous portrait of Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (left) and Professor William Macdonald, 1855. (St Andrews ALB-6-131-1)

One hopes, too, that this touching anonymous portrayal of Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (1786-1861), Provost of St Andrews, with his ‘sick baby’ friend, William Macdonald (1797-1875), Professor of Civil and Natural History in the University of St Andrews, is not entirely what it seems.

An 1860’s photograph of an unidentified woman, framed differently in two different albums, by Dr John Adamson, circa 1865. (St Andrews ALB-8-32 (left) and ALB-13-15)

An 1860’s photograph of an unidentified woman, framed differently in two different albums, by Dr John Adamson, circa 1865. (St Andrews ALB-8-32 (left) and ALB-13-15)

Even the way in which a photograph is presented can make a difference to its interpretation: the two copies of this 1860s portrait of an unknown woman by John Adamson, are tilted in their frame to differing degrees before having been cropped and pasted in to their albums, giving quite different impressions of the mood and attitude of the poser. The copy in Album 8 (left) was almost certainly inserted into the album by John Adamson himself.

These early examples show the willingness of the photographer to bend the truth through manipulation of the subject, but manipulation of the image itself was also not unknown, even in these early days.

John Adamson, stereographic self-portrait, c.1845-1851. (St Andrews ALB-8-88)

John Adamson, stereographic self-portrait, c.1845-1851. (St Andrews ALB-8-88)

This ‘stereographic’ portrait of John Adamson, taken in 1845 either by himself or by his younger brother Robert, is in fact not a true stereograph, but is two similar, but not identical negatives mounted together and printed in an effort to create the stereographic effect when viewed through an appropriate lens.

Man (possibly John Rodger, brother of photographer) posed as a fisherwoman, by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-10-28)

Man (possibly John Rodger, brother of photographer) posed as a fisherwoman, by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-10-28)

“Mr T. Rodger as Fishwoman” (father of the photographer), by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-6-99-2)

“Mr T. Rodger as Fishwoman” (father of the photographer), by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-6-99-2)

“A Caricature – T. Rodger and Remenyi” (father of photographer and Ede Reményi) by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-6-116)

“A Caricature – T. Rodger and Remenyi” (father of photographer and Ede Reményi) by Thomas Rodger, 1860. (St Andrews ALB-6-116)

“4 Generations” (i.e. four Thomas Rodgers), a composite by Thomas Rodger, 1856. (St Andrews ALB-49-56)

“4 Generations” (i.e. four Thomas Rodgers), a composite by Thomas Rodger, 1856. (St Andrews ALB-49-56)

Thomas Rodger, a commercially successful pupil of John Adamson, was not beyond portraying his brother John and his father as fish-wives in 1860, or his father as a village idiot. Working mechanically to create composite prints as early as 1856, Rodger also created this group portraying 4 generations of Thomas Rodgers, from individual portraits.

Working mainly in the first half of the 20th century, the Scottish landscape photographer, Robert Moyes Adam, was a master of the darkroom. The difficulty of reproducing many of the photographs he published of the Scottish mountains lies in the fact that a photographer is not always presented with the most aesthetic skies when the weather is so unpredictable. In order to do justice to the drama or majesty of the landscape he would therefore sometimes combine the printing of separate negatives of foreground and sky in the dark-room, in order to make a single finished composite print, often with dramatic results.

“Celtic cross, Fiunary, Morvern” by Robert Moyes Adam, 1919 (left, St Andrews RMA-H-750) and “Sunset over hills, Inveraray” by Robert Moyes Adam, 1915 (right, St Andrews RMA-H-469)

“Celtic cross, Fiunary, Morvern” by Robert Moyes Adam, 1919 (left, St Andrews RMA-H-750) and “Sunset over hills, Inveraray” by Robert Moyes Adam, 1915 (right, St Andrews RMA-H-469)

“Celtic cross, Sound of Mull” a composite of the above by Robert Moyes Adam, 1919 (St Andrews RMA-H-750.X)

“Celtic cross, Sound of Mull” a composite of the above by Robert Moyes Adam, 1919 (St Andrews RMA-H-750.X)

A good example of his technical artistry is this stunning photograph of a celtic cross at Lochaline on the Sound of Mull taken by R.M. Adam in 1919, where the original photograph of the cross has been blended with the startling sky (in reverse orientation) from different photograph taken near Inveraray four years earlier to produce a completely new image.

Moving into a more commercial arena, the thriving tourist photography business of James Valentine & Sons made full use of manipulative processes to maximise the profitability and breadth of coverage of their photographic stock.

“Express crossing Forth Bridge” by J. Valentine & Co., 1908 (St Andrews JV-60283)

“Express crossing Forth Bridge” by J. Valentine & Co., 1908 (St Andrews JV-60283)

A stock photograph of the Forth Rail Bridge, first registered in 1908, is here seen with a much later steam train crossing it.

“A Higland Washing” by J. Valentine & Co., 1878 (St Andrews JV-1677 (above) and JV-1677-B (below))

“A Higland Washing” by J. Valentine & Co., 1878 (St Andrews JV-1677 (above) and JV-1677-B (below))

Several different versions of this highly posed ‘kailyard’ scene, all from the same negative, exist within the Valentine archive. They purport to be a ‘Highland Washing’ photographed at Balquhidder in 1878 (although these are actors, who are to be found in other scenes and other locations).

“The Devil's Elbow, Glenshee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1878 (St Andrews JV-A-8455)

“The Devil’s Elbow, Glenshee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1878 (St Andrews JV-A-8455)

Quite why Valentines felt the need to draw this out-of-proportion and strangely coloured bus onto a traditional picture of the famous ‘Devil’s Elbow’ in Glenshee, is not clear!

“Albert Institute, Dundee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1880 (above, St Andrews JV-499X) and “Albert Institute, Dundee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1892 (below, St Andrews JV-17199)

“Albert Institute, Dundee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1880 (above, St Andrews JV-499X) and “Albert Institute, Dundee” by J. Valentine & Co., 1892 (below, St Andrews JV-17199)

And finally, these two images, taken from the same negative, show a photograph of the Albert Institute in Dundee (now the McManus Gallery), first registered for use in 1880, and then as it was ‘re-born’ and re-registered 12 years later. Such examples of re-use, updating and ‘re-imagining’ of images is common within the Valentine collection, with some very curious results.

So in the world of photography, as in the rest of life – especially at the beginning of April – one should never believe that all is as it seems.

NR

One response to “52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 41: All is not as it seems…

  1. Pingback: Reading the Collections, Week 39: Rejlander’s ‘The two ways of life’ (c. 1857) | Echoes from the Vault·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s