Research Project 2005-6
Archaeologies of the Standpoint
Nicole Lawrence’s presentation:
The Tourist Standpoint: The Photography of Reuben Warden-Hardy and Dr J.H. Stewart, 1894-1934
Today, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to travel without a camera. Where would the tourist stand without the guide of the photographic lens to aid them in framing unfamiliar cityscapes and vistas? Might they stand more to the left or to the right, move closer or further away, kneel down or even jump up? In fact, without the camera, would the tourist be inclined to stand still at all? Or would they remain in one place for even longer? The modern tourist does not share the same experience as the historical viewer. While he may occupy a similar site to his predecessor, the tourist often seeks to capture alternative viewpoints apart from history: the tourist climbs to new heights, as it were. By exploring the unfamiliar and the unexpected, other standpoints coincidentally emerge.
In 1959, the Conway Library was given a set of photographs from the Leicester Museum that typifies the new grand tourist of the early twentieth century. This particular photograph, taken at Gizah in 1900, is one such example. Originally, it was thought that this collection of over a thousand photographs was the product of one photographer, generically named the A59 Master; however, it has turned out that the photographs are the combined efforts of two different individuals, both of whom were part of a circle interested in photography with links to Leicester College, later Leicester University. One of the photographers was Reuben Warden-Hardy, a school-teacher and alpinist. The other, Dr J. H. Stewart, was the medical consultant to the Rutland and Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum. From the historical information available it is not clear if these two men worked together or separately, nor is it entirely possible to determine who took which photographs.
From the photographs and negatives Dr Lindy Grant has detailed an elaborate itinerary that outlines the dates that these two men, alone or together, visited certain places over a period of nearly 40 years, beginning in the late 1880s.
The negative series begins in 1894 in Northern Italy, three years later there are photographs from Canada, and three years after that from Egypt. There are photographs from America in 1904, and, in the same year, Switzerland and Italy. More from Canada in 1906, and from each year following Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Scotland, and, in 1911, Trinidad. In 1912, photographs of what was to become Moscow’s Red Square were taken. It appears that the First World War halted their picture taking, but their travels resumed as soon as the war ended: Switzerland, Ypres, Sicily, Istanbul, Athens, Cordoba, Belfast, Tangier, Naples. The last photographs were taken in 1934 in Sweden and Gloucestershire.
Many of the photographs were composed using a quarter plate size (the A size) camera, although in their travels they sometimes also brought with them a half plate size (the B size) camera. A half plate camera is a bulky, weighty and cumbersome object, requiring a substantial tripod: even a quarter plate camera is heavy and difficult to move around. By 1934, our photographer would have been in his sixties. Carrying this type of camera would have required good health and an able body. Moreover, almost all of the negatives that they used were glass plates, much heavier than modern film negatives. Lugging this kind of equipment did not easily facilitate certain locations. Therefore, the sheer size and weight of their technology predetermined many of their chosen standpoints. They certainly would never have been able to capture the view that the two men enjoyed from on top of the sphinx.
It is interesting to consider that, today, with the development of more lightweight snap-shot cameras, the standpoint from the sphinx could very easily be documented (if permission was granted), and, as technology develops, even more standpoints will emerge. For example, with the invention of extendable viewing screens in digital cameras, one now has the option of holding the camera away from the body in order to compose the photograph. The standpoint is no longer a record of the image’s relationship to the eye. The standpoint has essentially become disembodied. Detached from the physical restraints of the photographer, the camera becomes allowed to roam ever more freely into new positions, creating new viewpoints. In contrast, the standpoints of Warden-Hardy and Stewart were limited by the weight and size of their equipment.
Because there is such a large selection of photographs taken over a substantial period of time and from a variety of places, it might be interesting to consider recurring viewpoints. Were aesthetic choices made by these two travellers that anticipated the typical tourist standpoint? What are the constituent parts that comprise the typical tourist photo? Are their conscious or unconscious patterns in the way that we confront the unfamiliar?
When perusing through the thousands of photographs there a few particular types of standpoint that emerge. One common position in this series of photographs is what could be labelled the ‘approaching standpoint,’ where the photographer is positioned in a temporary location as he enters into the city, the square or a building, seemingly for the first time. Some photos document the first glimpse of a significant site as seen through the surrounding streets. Like the ‘approaching standpoint,’ these evoke a sense of discovery and anticipation, where one seeks to capture the first sight of a place that has yet to be fully explored.
Tourists tend not to take pictures after they have explored a place; they more often attempt to capture their first striking visual experience. In the photographs from Istanbul and from St Petersburg, the photographer seems to have just entered the square from an adjacent street. He is taking pictures at key junctions along his journey: the moments that punctuate his meanderings through the streets.
In Warden-Hardy and Stewart’s photographs of large structures, people are often included within the frame in order to give a sense of scale and proportion. Their work is not purely architectural photography; the photographer is documenting the human experience of encountering an overwhelming physical presence. These standpoints are not exclusively determined by the relationship between the building and the camera, but also by the building’s effect on the inhabitants of the city, which includes the photographer himself.
Many of the photographs are set alongside a road, where vehicles and people continue to stride before or past the camera. These locations seem to have been determined by happenstance, rather than by methodical calculation, dictated by the method of their transportation. Although the pictures were taken while on the road, they could not have been taken from a moving vehicle. It seems as if, whenever a scenic view presented itself, the photographer would order his driver to stop and he would jump out, set up his tripod and record the particular image
Warden-Hardy and Stewart also frequently travelled by ship – across the Atlantic, up the Nile, in the Mediterranean, and along the coast of Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia. Some of their photographs seem to have been taken from these moving vantage points on water.
One particular photograph, taken from the Nile River, questions the plausibility of the traveller always inhabiting a sedentary standpoint, as this image could not have been conceived with the same precision as it could have been if it were taken from solid ground. Taking a photograph from a boat, or any moving vessel for that matter, introduces an element of contingency into the nature of the standpoint. In fact, it raises the question of these photographs being documents of ‘stand’ points at all, for they are records of an almost random point or moment within a sequence of infinite standpoints.
It appears that one or both of our named photographers went to Le Mont-Saint Michel at least twice. Their first photograph was taken from 1898 and depicts the scaffolding meant to lift the new spire and Fremiet statue of St Michael into place atop the newly restored crossing tower. A crowd of clergy dressed in white robes proceed towards the Mont, perhaps to dedicate the new statue, while another photographer mounts his camera on its tripod. The second shot was taken in the first decade of the 20th century, but from almost the exact same place as the earlier photograph. The road has become slightly grown over with grass, the cart from the previous picture has now been exchanged with a car, and much of the restoration work is completed. Time has changed, but the standpoint has remained the same. Why would they return to the place twice and photograph the exact view from almost the same location? Were they documenting the architectural developments? Did they forget they had already taken a photograph of Mont-Saint Michel years ago? Was this repetition deliberate or accidental?
The church tower of the Cathedral of St. Mary from the Visby on the Gotland Island in Sweden is also photographed twice, from almost the same location, but at two different dates (This much is clear from the difference in the growth of the trees). We know from the negatives that either Warden-Hardy or Stewart visited Sweden at least three times: once in 1906, after returning from Canada, again in 1926, and finally in 1934. It seems that they returned not only to Sweden, but to their previous standpoint: a repeating habit within this collection of photographs. Perhaps one picture is by Warden-Hardy and the other by Stewart; did they take these pictures separately at two different times, without one knowing the other had already done so? If so, it is intriguing to note that the standpoints in these two photographs vary only slightly. If two different people took these photographs, at two different times, could it be that there exists a ‘right’ place to stage a photo of Mont-Saint Michel and the Cathedral of St. Mary? Is this simply the most scenic and perhaps most accessible location to photograph from? Are there particular places that are just better than others for the staging and restaging of tourist photos?
As a final example, compare one photograph taken by either Warden-Hardy or Stewart in Venice with a modern tourist photo. With a time span of almost one hundred years separating these two photos, over that period the standpoint has again only varied ever so slightly, suggesting that in our travels standpoints are rarely as unique as individuals.
© Nicole Lawrence 2006