A few of my favourite photographs…August 22, 2012 About my museum job, Blogs, Collections online, Photography
This week Project Assistant Anna Elson posts her final blog on digitising the Museum’s collection of Henry Grant photographs.
Well that’s it – almost 1,000 photographs have been uploaded to the Collections Online and I have come to the end of my work on the Henry Grant collection.
Henry Grant was a freelance photographer working exclusively in black and white. Employed by a news agency on Fleet Street he photographed political events for the newspapers but also recorded scenes which he happened upon on his way to assignments. These are an eclectic mix of pictures including the sights of London, children playing and city workers gossiping. Most are informal and spontaneous. Grant’s wife Rose was a journalist and in the 1960s and 70s they worked together specialising in education so many of his photographs feature schools, classrooms, teachers and pupils.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity to look through, sort, photograph and digitise some of the thousands of negatives which we hold and to get them online for people to see. I have posted some of my favourite ones below.
This photograph of an early motor car is stranger than it first appears! Something didn’t look quite right and the caption scribbled on the contacts sheet ‘fixing the engine’ just didn’t give enough information. On closer inspection it’s actually a man dressed in a women’s costume who is fine tuning the engine – the boots and trousers gave the game away! This gentleman is taking part in a rally or event of some kind, although the car was never registered for the London to Brighton rally it must have been a similar convention. After some detective work I discovered that this car, a 1906 De Dion Bouton 8hp, is still in existence today… it would be amazing if the owner saw this photograph and could provide us with more information!
I love this photograph. Taken on a station platform at Kings Cross the nun’s white headdress contrasts with the dark steam train behind. These cornettes were only worn by nun’s from the Roman Catholic order of the Daughters of Charity and it made them instantly recognisable. The cornette was heavy and hot and in 1964 the decision was made to disregard them. With her umbrella and suitcase this nun is obviously going on a journey but to where and why? This photograph was taken without her knowledge and is a fantastic example of the spontaneity in Grant’s photography.
This photograph depicts a scene which 21st century commuters will instantly recognise. Taken in 1973 it shows passengers taking the steps down to Oxford Circus tube station from the corner of Oxford Street and Regents Street. This scene is very similar to today’s rush hour and captures the fast pace of the queue and the hustle and bustle of people’s tube journeys. It’s always interesting to look at fashion in old photographs and this one is no exception – hair is worn longer than today for both men and women and there are examples of formal suits and hats as well as fashionable outfits worn by the young generation.
This is a great photograph of a toddler with two tiger cubs at London Zoo. Taken in 1951 it depicts two of a set of three tiger cubs born that year to great excitement by the British public. They were only the second litter to survive birth at the zoo and it was a great disappointment that the tigress Memsahib abandoned her cubs shortly after. The cubs had to be hand reared and were introduced to a Welsh collie who acted as a mother to them, even feeding them. Sadly it was discovered that the cubs were suffering from a calcium deficiency and all three died that same year. Having visited the zoo I know that no toddler would be able to get that close to tiger cubs these days and from Grant’s photograph of a snarling, snapping tiger cub you can see why.
This photograph of a boy feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square is wonderful and reminds me of sightseeing trips into London when I was a child. The mixture of fear and excitement on his face is fantastic and always makes me smile. The photograph was taken in November 1954 when Trafalgar Square was renowned for the large numbers of pigeons and feeding them was a popular activity. The birds (and their droppings) caused much damage to the buildings around the square and cleaning up after them costs thousands of pounds every year so this practice was banned in 2003.
So Henry Grant has been completed, but where to next…? Well, in quite a change of direction, my next project is to write about the collection of toys from the shop in the Museum’s Victorian Walk. Researching children’s toys will be an interesting change from black and white photographs… although I will miss those pigeons!