Marking time

Marking time

Friday 3 July 2015

Marks of use

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Saturday 27 June 2015

Benjamin Disraeli, flipped

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The Earl of Beaconsfield [Benjamin Disraeli]. photograph by W & D Downey, 1868; Woodburytype carte-de-visite published by John G Murdoch


It is just sixteen years ago, Mr Daniel Downey told us, since his brother and himself were called to Balmoral for the first time by order of Her Majesty; and although no one will deny that the firm has enjoyed opportunities which others have not been so fortunate as to secure, it must be remem­bered that it is not everybody who knows how to make good use of an opportunity. At that time there was no ac­com­mo­da­tion to be had near the Castle and grounds, and the brothers were glad enough to shelter themselves and their apparatus in a labourer’s cottage. But they did not want for personal comforts, for hardly had they arrived than the Prince of Wales, knowing of the strait the pho­tog­ra­phers were likely to be in, drove over in a waggonette to see them, and good-naturedly sent up provisions and wine at once for their especial behoof. The reception turned out to be one of good omen, and is likely to remain in the mem­o­ries of Messrs Downey many a long day.
          Everybody has seen the portrait of the late Earl of Beaconsfield in a black velvet coat taken by Messrs Downey. It was not an easy portrait to secure, and it was taken, it appears, some nine years ago at Balmoral, when the ex-Premier’s name was not Beaconsfield, but Disraeli. The Messrs Downey had just completed a spell of work at the Castle, and had made arrangements for a few days’ tour in the Highlands before returning to Newcastle. Ac­ci­den­tally the Premier ran down to have audience of Her Majesty, and the brothers had to be recalled from their pleasuring on purpose to photograph Benjamin Disraeli. Back they came, and in the morning Mr Disraeli walked into the improvised studio in a coat of azure blue and light trousers. They tried and tried again, but the photographs did not please. It bad been difficult before to persuade the Premier to sit for his portrait, but he resisted all im­por­tu­ni­ties the next day. Lady Churchill did all she could, and only when the stubborn First Lord heard that it was Her Majesty’s keen desire to secure a portrait, did he consent to sit once more. Unfortunately, it was a dull rainy morning, and the natty velvet jacket in which he was now arrayed was a source of constant anxiety to Her Majesty’s Chief Minister; a few rain drops might spoil its gloss beyond re­demp­tion, and this care, together with the long exposures necessitated by the dull light, again prevented the pho­to­graphs being successful. The fruits of the second day were no more satisfactory than those of the first. As to sug­gest­ing further sittings on the third morning, it was more than any who valued peace of mind dared do. There was the Premier still at Balmoral, walking about the grounds, but who was to ask him? At last, Lady Churchill plucked up courage, and spoke once more to the First Lord of the Treasury. He was obdurate at first, but in the end he con­sented to give five minutes, but only five minutes. He ap­peared again in the velvet jacket, and in a very bad hu­mour; but the negatives secured on that occasion have become famous. Hundreds of thousands of prints have been circulated, and the negatives have been printed in silver, carbon, enamel, and both woodburytyped and collotyped. It was some time afterwards before the Messrs Downey consoled themselves for the loss of that Highland holiday of theirs, but they seem now, at any rate, to have quite got over the disappointment.

[H Baden Pritchard, The Photographic Studios of Europe (London: Piper & Carter, 1882), pages 21–22]

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Thursday 21 May 2015

Controlled vocabulary

I’m the kind of guy who uses a controlled vocabulary to keyword his photos. This means that I use consistent words to describe things. Am I sadly obsessive? Maybe, but there are benefits.

There are about 75,000 images in my Lightroom catalog​—​some scanned, some born digital. I have assigned keywords and other useful metadata to almost all of them. For keywords I use the Getty Re­search Institute’s excellent Art & Architecture The­sau­rus, the Australian Pictorial Thesaurus, and my own controlled lists of terms for projects, places, people, and specialised subjects.

A digital camera image from my catalog. Here’s some of its metadata: Keywords: information > data > metadata; United Kingdom > London; photographer reflection; ar­chi­tec­tur­al elements > walls > exterior walls > facades > storefronts. Location metadata: 51°31’1” N, 0°8’33” W, Regent Street, London. Captured: 2010-09-06 13:07:54

Give me a few seconds and I can find images marked with rusti­cation (99 hits), or thermae (35 hits), or Lucy Marquis-Kyle (1,873 hits). As I add new images and metadata the whole collection gets richer.

Keywords: sculpture (visual work) > reliefs (sculptures) > bas-reliefs (sculpture); light (energy) > daylight [natural light]; architectural elements > friezes (ornamental areas); Italy > Pompeii; health facilities > public baths > thermae [Roman baths]; vaults (structural elements); sites (locations) > World Heritage Sites. Location metadata: 40° 45’ 2.994” N, 14° 29’ 2.43” E, Pompei, Campania, Italy. Captured: 2010-10-12 14:26:34

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Monday 4 May 2015

On not collecting

Museum people are acquisitive, mostly. They thrive on adding things to their collections, and so ensuring the survival and display of those things.

But some things are better left where they are​—​like the remains of the aircraft in this photo. The site is on the Cox Peninsular, west of Darwin, where a B-24 Liberator bomber crashed in Janu­ary 1945, killing the six American crewmen. Components of the plane now lie scattered across the site, among trees that have grown up in the seventy years since the crash.

The bits of the plane, left in the tropical scrub where they fell, evoke this dramatic event. The same bits, if they were taken away to a museum, would not have the same evocative power.

The crash site is marked with a red pin on this map of the area. More information about the site is in an article in the 380th Bomb Group Association newsletter, a web page, and another web page.

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