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The A59 photographer


The very fact that he used a half plate camera might suggest that he was a professional photographer. He was certainly immensely accomplished. These are magnificent photographs, composed with sensitivity and care. Sometimes he noted the shutter speed and exposure on the envelopes in which the negatives are kept. He experimented briefly with the new nitrate film negatives around 1900, but then reverted to glass. But this particular set of photographs were made, it seems, for his own interests and enjoyment, and if he were a professional photographer, he was a very rich one, with the wealth and the time to travel in leisurely style.

For he and his companions certainly travelled in style, often by ship - across the Atlantic, up the Nile, in the Mediterranean, but also along the coasts of Spain and Portugal and Scandinavia. Some magnificent early cars appear in some of his photographs - in Boston and Toronto in 1904 and 1906, and Tangiers in 1926; but these belonged, presumably, to local inhabitants, and the A59 man and his companions must have travelled overland by train. His companions, a mixture, presumably of family and friends, often feature in his photographs. In 1912, in Moscow, he persuaded them all to line up, 6 men and 5 women, in front of the huge statue of Peter the Great for an informal group photograph. But more often they are captured in the middle distance, inspecting the building or statue he is photographing with an air of serious interest.

When children appear in his photographs, they usually seem to be local urchins, who enjoy posing for the camera, rather than members of the photographer's own family. He liked people, whether or not they were family and friends, to enliven his photographs. His lens captures urchins at Dinan in Brittany, and in the picturesque slums of Rouen; students at the University in Toronto; peasants feeding pigeons in what would become, after the Revolution, Red Square, and driving their horse-drawn carts past the walls of the Kremlin; a family dashing across a busy road for a tram in Boston; the glances of young West Indians as they stride past carrying sugar cane; a woman in Middelburg wearing a magnificent starched lace coif.

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