The Day Before Yesterday: A Photographic Album of Daily Life in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

NY: Scribner, 1978.

The study of modern history — 19th century and later — has one great advantage over earlier periods and that’s the existence of photography. Beginning in 1839 (the very beginning of the Victorian era), with the inventions of Talbot and Daguerre, one stands a good chance of actually being able to examine a true-to-life representation of whatever person or place or social phenomenon one is interested in.

This is immeasurably aided by the work of Francis Frith, the first “documentary” photographer, who was interested less in portraits of celebrities and more in the ordinary working man, who generally ignored palaces in favor of the back streets and mines and small farm villages. And he was fully engaged in this work by the time of the Crimean War — and making good money at it, too. This excellent compilation of depictions of “real” people is almost entirely Frith’s work, from the Scottish “herring girls” working on their knees in a long row at the dockside to the chaos of a London traffic jam and the harried cop trying to sort things out. Even with the relatively long exposure times required by the equipment of the day, Frith and his colleagues often managed to conceal their cameras, resulting in quite unposed studies of the English public world from the 1860s up to the Great War. One could only wish for access to large, clear blow-ups of some of these fascinating images, and a big magnifying glass. The captions identify locations and trades and sometimes individuals and point out things of particular interest. I can easily lose an entire day poring over a book like this.

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Published in: on 9 March 2012 at 8:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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