Monday, October 31, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1880s

A mature lady of the mid-1880s manages to maintain her benign appearance despite her uncomfortable apparel. In this photo it’s the undergarments which draw our attention.
The line of her corset is clearly visible, pushing up the front of her bodice: at this date the corset would be long (similar in shape to the pointed bodice front) and its lower edge could be attached to a petticoat. Beneath her tightly-fitting bodice sleeves the edge of her camisole sleeves can be seen. Her bustled outfit is lavishly trimmed, tucked and pleated. Her indoor morning cap, probably of muslin with lace edging, is reminiscent of those worn by Queen Victoria in photographs taken during this era.

At this date, South African fashion lagged about two years behind European trends.

Fashion plates shown in publications such as the Young Ladies’ Journal would be anxiously perused in Natal, and local dressmakers would do their best to copy the styles chosen by their customers. Unfortunately, not every lady resembled the willowy figures shown in the magazine engravings. Plus ca change ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1870s

By the 1870s, photographers favoured padded chairs for their subjects to lean on, and a three-quarter view of the figure. This is a typical example.

The lady's hair, plainly centre-parted in front, is piled up on the top of her head in a thick plait, presumably - though not necessarily - her own. As the decade advanced, hairstyles became far more elaborate, especially at the back, waves, ringlets and curls being encouraged by overnight plaiting or by curl papers and curling tongs.

The emphasis of the skirt was all at the back, too, becoming larger and fuller as the bustle developed and the front and sides taking on a smoother appearance. Tapes fixed to the side-seams of the skirt were tied round the back underneath the projecting bustle.

The bodice for day wear was high-necked, with fussy trimming at neck and wrist.

In South Africa the change to the bustle took longer than it did in Europe: there was still a slight time lag in fashion though by the 1890s, with improved communications, this gradually became less noticeable.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1860s

Mrs Appleyard nee Archbell wearing the fan-shaped hoop of the 1860s, with a bolero bodice. Considering that she is a missionary's daughter, as well as the wife of a missionary, her ringlets are surprisingly frivolous. Her left hand, resting on a prayerbook, lends some solemnity.

The classical decor with draped arch, column and balustrade are typical of the 1860s, as is the full-length figure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Early Natal Photographers

The earliest documented photographer working in Natal was William Henry Burgess, a ‘dispensing chemist’ by profession, who had arrived on the Rydal in 1856 and advertised in October 1857 as follows in the Durban press:

Photographic Likenesses
Taken by the Collodian Process* …
West Street, Durban, every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
until further notice.
Hours from half past 10 a.m. till 3 o’clock p.m.
Terms Cash.

By early 1858 Burgess had moved to Verulam on the Natal North Coast where he continued as a chemist, though not, as far as we know, as a photographer.

Other early Natal photographers included J S Brock, Bowman, Fry & Co., James Pulleyn (listed as a watchmaker of West Street in the 1856-57 Durban electoral roll) and James Lloyd.

*George Russell notes in his History of Old Durban, ‘alas! the collodian process … has yielded to our climate, for few of their works survive them. They are now, with rare exceptions, faded ghost shadows of the persons and scenes which they took’.

Wet collodian negatives – glass plates – could be used to make prints on albumen paper: however, these printed images tended to turn yellow and fade, as Russell points out above. 

Brock and Bowman in partnership, 1864

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Natal Photographers: T. Crawford Erwin

Maud Alice Gadsden nee Swires ca 1917-18

There are instances where knowing the name of the photographic studio isn't particularly helpful for dating purposes. This photograph was taken by T. Crawford Erwin, who had a studio in Durban for almost 50 years. He first puts in an appearance in local directories in 1906 as 'Erwin and Graham' at Cuthbert's Buildings, West Street, Durban.  By 1908 the erstwhile Mr Graham is no longer in the picture and Erwin appears alone. The following year, 1909, Erwin apparently decided to give his studio a name, the 'Kan Studio' and it is this title which is shown on the above vignette - a style of photo which remained popular from the 1890s and throughout the first two decades of the 20th c.

The cool, simple, white cotton shirt worn with a dark soft bow at the neck was a favourite for ladies' day- wear in Natal. By this date - ca 1917 - the frivolous riot of tucks and lace and broderie anglaise trimming which had been prevalent in the 1890s had quietened down. Women were now to be taken more seriously. Her hat is broad-brimmed and practical for the summer heat, but is rescued from being too severe by the scalloped net frill and flowers around the edge of the brim. Its general shape is reminiscent of the 'Boss of the Plains' hat from which Baden-Powell developed the well-known scouting headgear.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photographers and costume: Natal 1880s

This portrait was taken by James Lloyd, a Durban photographer from the end of the 1850s to 1899, at his 'West End Studio'.

The carte de visite dates to the early to mid-1880s: the high-buttoned front of the jacket is a clue, as are the narrow lapels and the cut-away jacket corners. This young man’s trousers are without a front crease or turn-up and cut fairly wide in the leg, another indication of the date. He wears a hat, possibly of straw, with upturned brim and a band of patterned fabric. 

It is unusual to find formal studio portraits of African subjects - as distinct from tourist views which were popular e.g. of women in beaded costume or Zulu warriors in full rig plus shield and assegai. Most photographers took some of those and judging from advertisements there was a demand for such pictures.

 In this instance, the subject is seen as a person, an individual in his own right. He was employed by a family who lived in Durban for some years, later returning to England. They wanted a photograph of him for sentimental reasons:  a record of someone they were attached to, who had been part of their household and had looked after their young son. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Costume and Photographers in Natal: Watson Robertson

Because men’s costume, i.e. the basic suit, changed very little from about the 1890s to the 1920s, it is sometimes difficult to use this aspect when dating a photograph, especially in a head-and-shoulders ‘window’ view. The dapper young man in this portrait taken circa 1910-12 wears a stiff, fairly high-collared shirt, not turned down at the corners, his tie is soft and loosely knotted. Button-holes (the flowers on his lapel) were popular for special occasions; perhaps this is an engagement photograph. Unfortunately, we can’t see his trousers which by this date probably had turnups (trendy from 1902), and would have been worn slightly shorter than previously and with a knife-edge crease. His hair is fashionably short with a side-parting, and his moustache well-trimmed.

The photographer, William Watson Robertson, operated a studio in Chapel Street, Pietermaritzburg, from about 1898; his success may have been due to his marketing strategies. That he wished his studio to be regarded as an establishment with class is evidenced by a coat-of-arms imprinted on the card mount, announcing that he is photographer ‘By appointment to H.E. (His Excellency) the Governor of Natal’. According to his advertisement in the Natal Almanac of 1908  he is ‘the leading photographer in Natal’.

The Watson Robertson studio continued to run until the 1930s, under a new proprietor, Walter Linley.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Photographers in Natal: Benjamin Kisch

Ernest Bell Pay b 1875*. He is still wearing skirts – boys were usually ‘breeched’ at the age of four so he may be about 3 or 4 years old in this photograph taken, therefore, circa 1878/79. He has elastic-sided boots with socks turned over the tops; his garment is of a durable fabric such as serge, somewhat warm for the Natal sub-tropical climate, and a touch of white frill shows at the high neckline relieving the sombre
colour. Ernest’s hair falls into natural curls.

The photographer has taken care in positioning his subject, the attractive Natal colonial-style lattice work behind and wooden diamond-shaped embellishment below providing a decorative frame though not detracting from the main focus of the picture. The date of 1878/9 fits in with the plainness of the mount, which has rounded corners and is blank on the back: the value of the space on the reverse of the carte for advertising purposes had yet to be considered.
An impressed stamp, ‘KISCH’, is hardly visible at the bottom right of the carte de visite.

In 1878/9 Benjamin Kisch was operating his Durban studio without the help of his brother Henry, also a photographer, who had moved to Pmb in 1875. At the date this photo was taken - and until 1880 - Benjamin Kisch worked from his studio in Smith Street ‘opposite the Durban Club’; previously advertised as ‘Kisch Bros’ now ‘Benjamin Kisch, photographer and artist’. In 1881 he moved to premises in Mercury Lane, Durban, ‘opposite the Congregational Church’.

*Grandson of Captain William Bell and Mary Anne nee Caithness; son of Charles George Pay and Sarah Scott nee Bell.