Because I've always felt a wonder at old photographs not easy to explain. Maybe I don't need to explain; maybe you'll recognize what I mean. I mean the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door.

The wonder is even stronger with old stereoscopic views - the almost, but not quite, identical pair of photographs mounted side by side on stiff cardboard, that, looked at through the viewer, give a miraculous effect of depth. It's never been a mystery to me why the whole country was once crazy about them. Because the good ones, the really clear sharp photographs, are so real: Insert a view, slide it into focus, and the old scene leaps out at you, astonishingly three-dimensional. And then, for me, the awe becomes intense. Because now you really see the arrested moment, so actual it seems that if you watch intently, the life caught here must continue. That the raised horse's hoof so startlingly distinct in the foreground must move down to the solidness of pavement below it again; those carriage wheels revolve, the girl walk closer, the man move on out of the scene. The feeling that the tantalizing reality of the vanished moment might somehow be seized - that if you watch long enough you might detect that first nearly imperceptible movement - is the answer to the question Kate has asked me more than once: "How can you sit there so long--you hardly move! - staring endlessly at the very same picture?"

09 March, 2017

Flambards Cornwall – Victorian Photographer's studio

When I am in Cornwall for a holiday, one of my favourite excursions is to the Flambards Theme Park. I don't go for the rides, the main attraction for me is the Victorian Village. It really is like stepping back in time with authentic sounds and even smells. The village is built indoors and kept in semi darkness. It is as if one is walking through a Victorian street and peering into the windows of real shops where the people have been frozen in time. It is even better to go when there are not many visitors, just before the Park closes for example, and really get into the atmosphere of the place.

One particular establishment that interests me is, of course, Mr Maggs photography studio, where the couple on the right can be seen posing for a photograph.

I have been to the Park many times since the late 1970s, and always explore the Village at least twice. Hopefully the photographs below will give you a little flavour of the Victorian photographer's studio and shop, and you will consider visiting the Park when you are down in the West Country. It is cheaper to go off season when the rides are not open to the public.

More about Flambards Victorian Village.