Tony Woolrich has given me some boxes of old 35mm slides acquired in his furniture trading business. He thought they were special and deserved closer scrutiny and he was right. They came from an elderly couple in Malvern eager to pass them on, but other than that the name and address is unknown and the trail has gone cold.
The slides, a few hundred in number, document somebody’s travels in Europe and Japan in the early 1950s. Who the photographer was and what the travel was for is anyone’s guess sixty years after the event. There are some teasing clues though.
For one thing, they are too good for a complete amateur. Photographs made by amateurs are often taken too close or too far away, with no clear subject-matter and with a poor sense of composition, they are simplistic. As you can see, that is not the case with these pictures. They are accomplished examples of the street photography genre, made with a eye photographic eye, an openness to varied subject-matter and a good feeling for light, colour and composition.
A further clue is the expensive glass mounts, with some being cropped with special black tape. This protection suggests the maker was a professional, a photographer, a lecturer or a member of camera clubs, showing them often in public slides shows. This is more plausible than it might seem – in the 1950s overseas travel was rare and seeing images of foreign locations was a special event.
All the slides are Kodachromes, a fact which is immediately apparent because none of them have faded. That fabulous emulsion has held fast for sixty years while other slides I possess half their age have long ago faded badly. The distinctive colour palette, the contrasty “snap”, is intact, giving the images the look of glossy magazine photos. You can see what was lost when production and processing ceased in 2010. In photographic terms it was something like a tragedy and was covered widely in the press.
These first few images show what the collection is like. I’m gradually taking them out of the glass mounts to scan them and bring them back to their natural appearance. It’s going to be a long project.