Paintings of Amersham by Charles Paget Wade

When I was starting to get deeper into my research of Charles Paget Wade for my book on his life at Hampstead Garden Suburb, I quickly realised one thing: Wade didn’t keep a diary. Not everyone does. But it’s always a disappointment – a tiny one, anyway – to find out that someone I’m researching didn’t keep a diary.

With a diary to use in collaboration with other forms of biographical research, so much more can be gleaned about a person. Without a diary, letters often fill in the gaps, and this is true for Wade, and it’s a big part of why I went to Gloucester Archives (although the majority of the holdings are letters to Wade, not from him).

Wade did write memoirs in later life, which have been hugely helpful in discovering more about the enigmatic man himself. But retrospective recollections can often be misleading, so first-hand documents are always helpful. With Wade, we have a number of these, including receipts for a great many of the shopping trips he went on, picking up antiques around the country. Using these, I’ve been able to piece together journeys and timelines.

But perhaps the most helpful of these records have been Wade’s own drawings, paintings and illustrations. As a draughtsman, Wade very diligently noted the date on his work, usually with the year, and quite often with the date or even the location. Naturally some were done on-site and others later, from memory. But these records go a long way to filling in other blanks in his movements.

Wade’s architectural work was often exquisitely detailed, while his illustrations – a number of which were used for a children’s novel – are more artful and fantastical. Alongside these he also did paintings – some of real locations, and others of imaginary worlds.

Capture

Thanks to the National Trust’s staggering Collections database I was thrilled to discover that Wade had painted several scenes at the south Buckinghamshire market town of Amersham – my home town.

Whilst living at Hampstead Garden Suburb (1907-1919), Wade went on a number of travels and tours around England, visiting quaint villages, churches and pubs, as much to trawl the antiques shops as to use the vernacular architecture as inspiration for his own works, both built and imagined.

At Amersham, Wade’s eye was clearly drawn to the 17th century town hall as well as the Crown hotel opposite, one of a number of historic coaching inns that line the high street.

Having discovered that Wade had painted some scenes centring on these buildings, I was pleased to have the opportunity this weekend to try and photograph them from roughly the same perspective. Thankfully, Amersham’s old town has changed very little since Wade visited in 1907-8 and, despite my rough positioning, it’s not hard to see the same scenes that Wade found compelling enough to paint.

The paintings

The Crown

Crown Inn, Amershamby Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Crown Inn, Amersham. August 15 1909. With TA Lloyd
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Rear of The Crown Inn, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

Market Hall, Amershamby Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Market Hall, Amersham. October 5 Sunday 1908 with A H Mottram
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Church Street

View of Amersham with Clock Turret of Market Hall by Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Aug 15.09, Amersham with T.A.L [T. A. Lloyd]
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall and The Crown from Church Street, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

LargeImageHandler (27)
The Little Sweet Shop, C Wade Inv August 1909
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall water pump, High Street, Amersham, 19 August 2017
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So I turned my bedroom into a camera obscura

This weekend, when I was supposed to be revising for one of my final exams on Monday, I had an itch that needed scratching.

Since moving into this house nearly three years ago, I’ve often thought that my bedroom would work well as a camera obscura. That’s the name for a closed box with a small hole at the end to let light in. The light from the hole is then projected onto the opposite end. It’s how a camera works, actually, and it works in a ‘box’ from the size of a matchbox pinhole camera, right up to a room or specially-designed domed roof.

I saw this done on a BBC documentary about photography a few years ago, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

The theory is simple: the small hole acts as a lens, and as the light pours through, it is inverted and projected onto the opposite wall. You then get a ‘live’ projection of the world outside on the darkened wall.

And the box/room must be darkened – as close to pitch black as possible. With a small box, you’d use tape. For a box the size of a bedroom, you must black out all sources of light from the windows. I used bin liners, but you can use anything that will do the job.

The best thing about the setup is that the ‘lens’ is really just a hole. Literally just a 10p-sized hole, cut into whatever material you are using to black out the windows. I read some stuff about using an actual lens over this hole – presumably to sharpen the projected image – but it’s pretty clear without.

All the ‘gear’ I used was:

  • a roll of parcel or gaffer tape;
  • a roll of twenty or so bin liners;
  • a pair of scissors.

The bin liners weren’t ideal – they’re quite thin, and I had to double up the layers. Thicker garden waste bags might work, or you can buy a more expensive roll of thicker plastic, for lining ponds, for example.

Anyway. Once I had spent an hour or two carefully covering the windows and plugging any stray sources of light, I turned off my bedroom lights. The room was pitch black once my eyes had adjusted. I went over to the larger window and pinched the middle of the plastic, cutting a small hole. Immediately, light shone in. I looked over to the opposite wall, and was instantly blown away by what I saw…

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Crazy!

Due to Science, the image is, of course, inverted. This takes a minute to get used to, and makes it quite fun to look around at a familiar scene, trying to spot where it has ended up in the room. And because the image is live (for some reason, I half expect it to be static), the movement of the clouds and tree branches is quite magical.

It was a bright, sunny day, and my bedroom faces south east, and this makes for ideal conditions to make a camera obscura. It also helps if your room is painted a light, plain colour, with as few distractions as possible to break up the image. I removed most of the pictures and frames from the wall to provide as large a canvas as possible.

Purpose-built camera obscurae can be found here and there – I visited this one in Bristol about fifteen years ago and was very impressed.

The colours you see in the images above are a bit brighter than they appear in real life. That’s because they are long exposures – between 5 and 20 seconds, I believe, allowing the camera more time to absorb the colours and light.

As well as inverting the image, the hole ‘lens’ actually helps you to understand how camera lenses work. The smaller the hole (or aperture), the less light can get in, but the sharper the image. The larger the hole, the brighter the image, but the fuzzier it is. I experimented a little, holding up a few lenses to the hole – but nothing beat the hole itself.

If I wanted to take the metaphor further, I could’ve used a wall-sized piece of film or photographic paper, and created a print. My room would then have basically been a camera proper. Unfortunately, wall-sized photo paper and film is a little hard to come by, so I was happy to revel in the experience in person – as well as taking some digital snapshots.

An amazing result, and I’m so glad I gave it a go. It might also be the most extravagant and time-consuming form of procrastination I’ve completed to date. That’s something to celebrate. Now, back to revision.

Finally, this short video neatly  helps to show the whole process, should you be curious:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gvzpu0Q9RTU

Christchurch In Panorama (with thanks to the National Library of NewZealand)

I’ve recently been playing with the National Library of New Zealand‘s excellent Papers Past archive, along with the Digital NZ website. The former is a resource I’ve long been a fan of – even to the point of printing off whole editions of newspapers held in the archive – while the latter is one I’ve known about for a while but never really used.

It turns out that the big search box that greets you on the Digital NZ homepage is basically a Google for digital New Zealand content. Excellent! Not only can you search just one resource at a time, but a whole host of them, refining the search with filters to drill down to find just what you want.

I can’t believe I hadn’t used it before, but it looks like Digital NZ and the NLNZ’s new beta website are both related and are currently under development. They both work great, sure – but they also look beautiful.

It’s not often that you can say that about a library’s public access catalogue!

One of the benefits of an overhauled new system is a system of APIs which allows developers to make cool stuff using the rich sources of data held by the library. One such project is Tim Sherratt’s QueryPicNZ – a simple tool which performs some pretty complex calculations.

It’ll show you on a graph the number of times a particular search term is used in the whole of the Papers Past archive. It’s great for visually analysing the occurrences of a particular event, say, or for easily identifying the unique uses of a particular phrase.

What’s more, the results plotted on the graph are all clickable, and take you directly to the article in question. Seamless.

Anyway, I stumbled on a 130-year-old article in Papers Past after playing with QueryPicNZ.

I’ve had Christchurch on my mind a lot recently. I can’t really work out why; I’ve spent some time there, but not a great deal. I don’t have family there. But the place resonates within me, and the recent upheaval the city is going through has been a source of constant fascination to me. I’m sure I’ll try and distill this peculiar feeling another time, but for now let’s get back to the matter at hand.

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The article in The Star newspaper described a panoramic photograph of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, taken from the recently-constructed (and now destroyed) Christ Church Cathedral, giving a view of the city in 1881. The article compares the photograph to a particular watercolour which was “a faithful presentment of the Christchurch of 1852.”

The article goes on: “When the tower of the Cathedral had been completed, some of the citizens took advantage of the opportunity to look down, upon the City of the Plains…Beyond the Belts they could see thriving and populous suburbs, and, in every direction, indications that the growth of the community is proceeding with undiminished rigour.”

It describes how Messrs Wheeler and Co. captured “as perfect a panorama as could reasonably be desired.” The panorama affords “much surprise of an agreeable nature, inasmuch as they are not the mere ‘pictures of roofs and chimneys’ which might perhaps have been anticipated.”

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The article closes, praising the panorama as “a most effective and highly creditable example of the status in this Colony of one of the artistic pursuits.”

Praise indeed. But what about that photograph? It sounded great, and I really wanted to see it.

Knowing that I had NLNZ’s excellent tools at my disposal, I performed a few searches, but turned up nothing. (Actually that’s not quite true; I turned up about ten other items of interest which lost me about an hour in researching those in turn!)

Eventually, however, I found a lithograph from 1889 which made reference to the Wheeler photograph. It turned out that it was actually based on the panorama itself, and coloured in. So although I couldn’t find the original Wheeler image, here was a tracing of that image, with added colour!

And the icing on the cake, that comes with so many National Library of New Zealand searches: the image has been scanned and is available to view online instantly. So here it is:

Potts, William, 1859-1947Edmund Wheeler and Son (Firm). Willis, Archibald Dudingston (Firm) :City of Christchurch, N. Z. W. Potts, lith, E. Wheeler & Son, Photo. A. D. Willis lithographer, Wanganui. [1889]. Wakefield, Edward 1845-1924 :New Zealand illustrated. The story of New Zealand and descriptions of its cities and towns by Edward Wakefield; also (by various writers) the natural wonders of New Zealand (past and present). Wanganui. A. D. Willis, 1889.. Ref: PUBL-0019-09. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23041986

It’s a stunning image, I’m sure you’ll agree. The newspaper article wasn’t exaggerating.

But the great news doesn’t end there.

NLNZ haven’t just scanned the above image; no, just like a whole load more images you can find in their archive, they’ve scanned it at eye-searingly high resolution, which you can view and zoom into just by clicking the catalogue link, then clicking ‘See original record’, then ‘View archived copy online’. It’s a slightly fiddly process, but the results are worth it.

Here’s a snippet of the image at full resolution:

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If you ever find an image on the NLNZ catalogue – particularly a photograph from that era – and there’s a link to view it online, do so. The resolution of the scan will be huge, and the quality of those large-format images of the time is insane. I’ve lost hours panning around a street scene from the turn of the century, reading all the shop signs and scrutinising the faces of whoever happened to be in front of the lens the day the photograph was taken.

Related: Check out a recent NLNZ blog post about just this subject: embiggening images.

On the importance of overhead cables in a photograph

From the National Library of New Zealand‘s Flickr account, a rather striking shot of a building in Wellington, taken in 1940:

Photographer: Gordon Burt, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/2-036769-G

Here is the brand new MLC building at the corner of Lambton Quay and Hunter Street, photographed in 1940. It is from the negatives and prints of Gordon Burt, one of Wellington’s best-known commercial photographers. He was determined to show the building in all its art deco glory. In the real world overhead wires and cables criss-crossed in front of the camera, but on this print Burt has painstakingly retouched them out of existence.

I was interested to read that the ubiquitous overhead tram cables that run throughout downtown Wellington had been edited out of this image – if you click through to the Flickr page and view it larger, you can easily see where this has been done. And while I agree that it does make it easier to focus on the building’s proud frontage, I can’t help but feel slightly queasy about the removal of something so obvious.

But that’s just me; I love lines and silhouettes in photographs – and overhead cables bring a lot of that to an image. Often when I’m out and about, an image can be framed, or divided up, by some previously unnoticed cables. Other times, the unique arrangement of cables against a solid coloured sky can make the image itself. Even the latticed windows of my bedroom make for a beautiful composition against the right cloudscape.

I remember at least one example where I’d taken a photograph of a particularly nice sunset out of the back of my home in Manchester. Criss-crossing the image are the collection of telegraph cables that proliferate in such a densely populated residential area as this. For me, it made an image where the primary feature was swathes of colour a little more dynamic and interesting – the thick black lines against the bright colours of a fiery sunset made for a wonderful contrast.

Or so I thought.

The image ended up on my Manchester Daily Photo blog, and although I can’t remember it exactly, one of the comments left by a site visitor said words to the effect of “Lovely sunset, shame about the wires ruining it though.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. One man’s defining feature in a photograph can be another man’s distraction. And I quite like that.

Oddly enough, my mother was quick to jump in to the comments and defend the presence of the wires, saying she felt that they made the image. That must be where I get it from…

Incidentally, I’d show you the image I mean, but my Flickr account is currently in a somewhat dormant state as my subscription fees have expired for the first time in six years. This means my 12,000-odd photographs are ‘hidden’, with only the latest 200 showing. I will get around to renewing it when I can though, of course.

Donations welcome…!

New web project – a beginner’s guide to the Zenit E

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I made a thing. For the second of our Applied Web Design and Management coursework submissions, we were tasked with creating a small website.

It had to contain a 6-step tutorial for a task of our choosing, and had to incorporate appropriate navigation and layout, along with original images and text. It also obviously had to validate and be accessible.

Finally, the whole project had to be created as a Dreamweaver template file.

I chose to create a tutorial for new users of a Zenit E SLR camera.

From the very start I wanted to have an instruction manual feel to the pages, along with a filmstrip for navigation. The rest of the pages are more traditional layout elements.

I don’t really call myself a web designer, despite doing all of these types of things for years. But I’m pretty happy with the results.

I spent an awful lot of time on it, which I don’t regret one bit. Like other skills and creative pursuits, web design is one of those things where you can spend hours tweaking something which will never be noticed, and where, from the outside, the results can look deceptively simplistic.

All the same, I like my little project, and it’s been a rare example of a piece of university coursework I’ve loved working on. I know several improvements that could be made – most of which would require starting over completely. Such retrospect can be applied to future work.

To view the project, either click the screenshot above, or this link.