Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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May 2018

Tue 08th May 2018
Stephen Gill – History of Photography and Photographic Restoration.


Stephen originally studied photography in Bolton back in the 1960s. Early Victorian photograph could be up to 180 years old and officially considered as antiques. 1837 is quite significant in photographic terms as it is generally considered as the start of practical photographs. The first family photo we were shown was a shepherd taken in 1850. It was Steve’s great great great grandfather and can be considered as priceless. With old family photographs the question needs to be asked was why was it taken? It is generally possible to identify if a photograph is taken by a family member or by a professional.

Stephen Gill

A professional photograph would cost a lot of money. In 1900 a mill girl would earn about £16 a year but a professional portrait would cost 10 shilling or 10 days pay. Professional portraits would be taken for a specific reason usually a special birthday. A way of dating images can be uniforms or fashion. A photograph of Steven's grandfather showed him in WW1 in the Lancashire Fusiliers 1915. Another photograph showed him in a different uniform. It turned out that he was injured and after that transferred to the RAMC or Royal Army Medical Corps. Many soldiers in the Great War took a camera with them but after 1915 this was not allowed, though many did. The standard camera used was the Kodak Vest Pocket Camera or VPK.

Kodak Vest Pocket Camera or VPK

In the early 20th century the main form of communication was the post card. Prior to 1907 there was no option to add a message to the card but after that room for a message was added to address side. Because the photographic print was silver based there was a tendency for the image to fade, especially if left in strong light. Steve had restored many of these faded images using modern digital techniques.
Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869) was a famous photographer from Rochdale who is best known for his photos taken during the Crimean War (1853-1856) Even then the technique of modifying images was used. The famous 1855 photograph "Shadow of the Valley of Death" Crimea had many cannon balls added to the final print.

Stephen's collection of old family cameras

An astonishing example of Stephen's restoration of an old faded photo.

Roger Fenton's famous 1855 photograph "Shadow of the Valley of Death" Crimea had many cannon balls added to the final print..
In modern times the phone camera allows people to take thousands of images which are not usually printed so will be of no use to future generations. However, the on-line printing process of producing affordable printed photo albums as a way of preserving our images. The inks used produce extremely long lasting images which will outlive the poor colour prints of the 1960s and 70s which have already faded.
It was nice to end the talk on a positive note about the ability to preserve our family heritage.

Stephen's photograph restoration web page can be seen here.