” The past is another country. They do things differently there.”
With those two immortal lines the English novelist L.P. Hartley opens The Go- Between, one of the finest novels ever written about love, sex, betrayal and the English class system.
I have often thought of those words when looking at photographs of the 19th and early 20th Century. What is missing from the photos to allow me to relate to them?
The first is that no one is ever smiling. This is largely because photographic subjects were told by photographers to sit still and not move – even a facial muscle, because exposures took so long ( up to 45 seconds) and any movement could imperil image capture. But without the smile, the subjects look truly frozen in time, without life nor true personality.
The second is the absence of color. Without color, photographs are robbed of their vibrancy, lacking contrasting shadow and depths of field – making almost any image look rather sad and commonplace.
So when I stumble upon images from 100 years ago that posesses color, and of a time and place of which we know so little, I always pay attention.
Please follow the link below to a range of photographs taken in 1910 from pre- Revolutionary Russia which offer a window on a forgotten world. They sparkle with an immediacy and sense of place as if they were taken yesterday. Spend some time studying them. You will lose yourself in their wonderful detail.