John Deazeley’s backdrop
Here’s an object that tickles my interest in three branches of history—photography, lighthouses, and the region where I live.
It’s a cabinet photograph made in the 1880s by John Deazeley, a photographer with a studio in Queen Street, Brisbane. Queen Street was, and still is, the main commercial street in the city. Three other Brisbane photographers had Queen Street studios then—Thomas Mathewson, Albert Lomer, and Eddie Hutchison.
The photo shows a young woman lounging on a sheepskin rug draped with leaves, as if at a seaside picnic. She’s wearing a dress with many ruffles, and holding a dainty basket. It’s a pleasing photograph, and a departure from the usual upright Victorian pose with curtains, columns and overstuffed chairs. The background is a painted seascape with waves breaking on a rocky shore, a cloudy sky, and a schooner on the horizon. In the middle distance is a headland with a lighthouse. I’m guessing it represents Cape Moreton, a fondly remembered landmark for immigrants arriving in Brisbane. Perhaps John Deazeley chose to have this backdrop painted to locate his subjects in their new place.
The back of the photo reveals another local connection—in fine print, the name of the firm that printed the card. Watson, Ferguson & Co was a big business in Brisbane in the 1880s—a lithographic and letterpress printer, a book seller and importer, a stationery retailer and manufacturer, a bookbinder.
Of the four Queen Street photographers, only Deazeley went to the local printer for his carte-de-visite and cabinet cards. The others ordered theirs from Marion & Co of Paris and London.
Heritage impact assessment lah
Here’s a sequel to my post about heritage impact reports. Dr Lee Lik Meng, Associate Professor of planning at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, took part in Donald Ellsmore’s workshop and wrote about the experience on his blog.
In my opinion, we failed miserably in our effort to protect the “cultural significance” of George Town, according the standards and protocol approved by UNESCO. The facilitator/instructor did at the very beginning say that it is a difficult task (“not easy”), this [heritage impact assessment] thing.
Was the facilitator too harsh in his grading? After all, among the 20 or so participants were quite a number of heritage consultants (architecture-based professionals) from George Town and Melaka who had restored numerous buildings to their past glory. Harsh or not, I can say for sure that all those heritage experts in the workshop have very high skills and knowledge about the architecture, the tangible part of the “cultural significance”. The stumbling block is the intangibles. Make no mistake about it. It isn’t that the local experts are not aware of the issues (as was obvious in the follow-up discussion) but I sense that they “know” the local situation very well (especially the politics of development) and it is not something they have a lot of influence over.
Ah yes, those intangible values can be slippery. And who has the wisdom to sort the possible from the impossible? Dr Lee’s yarn suggests to me that I should visit George Town—a thought that is also stirred whenever I read a couple of other blogs.
I found this delightful German word in Oliver Reichenstein’s fine piece Learning to see. He writes about design that combines functional and aesthetic value—You don’t get there with cosmetics, you get there by taking care of the details, by polishing and refining what you have. This is ultimately a matter of trained taste, or what German speakers call “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally, “finger-tip-feeling”). He adds a photo of Jan Tschichold to illustrate.
More about the woodburytype
To add to my terse mention of the woodburytype the other day, I bring you a paragraph of text, and a video.
The paragraph is from Richard Benson’s book The printed picture [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008]:
The woodburytype plate was hard to make, but once done it could generate a lot of inexpensive prints. They curled terribly and the borders were always a mess, from the excess gelatin squeezing out, so they were always mounted. The woodburytype used no silver, which saved money, and it could produce monochromatic prints in any color, according to the pigment used. The prints were also never wet, so all the complex handling of wet paper was avoided. Most of them were colored to imitate albumen prints, so the viewers believed they were seeing a “real” photograph. The technology didn’t allow prints much bigger than eight by ten inches [20 x 25 cm], but these beautiful little prints never had to go into a hypo bath so they are remarkably permanent.
This video from George Eastman House shows the woodburytype printing process in action:
I have scanned a pair of timber price lists from my collection. See the PDFs here. They were produced in the 1930s by timber merchants in Queensland and New South Wales. They allow some interesting comparisons.
One example: The Sydney supplier (Vanderfield & Reid Ltd) offered many timbers imported from overseas—Oregon (Douglas Fir), Redwood, Yellow Pine, Sugar Pine and Hemlock from North America; Baltic Pine from Europe; Rimu and White Pine (kauri?) from New Zealand; Pacific Maple from Asia; Pacific Oak from Japan; and Gaboon Mahogany from Africa.
In contrast, almost everything sold by Hancock Brothers was cut in Queensland. The few imports came from America—Oregon (up to 60 feet long, while 40 feet was the maximum for Queensland Pine); and Redwood shingles.
First thing in the morning. I’m on the verandah of the Assistant Lightkeeper’s quarters. I can hear waves lapping the shore, sea birds calling, the wind in the palm fronts. At a distance, just audible, repeated strokes of a rake on sand.
Jenni and Wayne, the caretakers, rake the sand paths at Low Island. They remove fallen leaves and twigs, and mark the damp sand with a hatching of rake marks. They call it zen raking, with a laugh at themselves, but I sense this meditative task sets them up for the day.
The first visitors of the day arrive mid-morning. As they go from place to place their footprints make a dot-painting of their routes. By mid-afternoon they are back on the boat and away. The footprints stay overnight, blurred by wind and rain, for Wayne and Jenni to erase the next morning.