Photography in Fiction: Around the World in Eighty Days

Phileas Fogg, illustration by Alphonse de Neuville and/or Léon Benett (1873)

Jules Verne was a writer of fiction about the frontiers of technology and its impact on society, rather than a science fiction writer.  Hence, Around the World is about the potential for the latest technologies in travel and communications to shrink the globe.  It reflects a world that is increasingly structured, organised and standardised, a world in which it is possible to plan a journey using train and boat schedules of frequent and reliable services.  The novel was first published in 1873.

Photography was another technology that was developing technologically and in its application at the time.  Dry gelatin plates were invented by Richard Maddox in 1871 and quickly made photography a much simpler: photographers roamed the world collecting images of the exotic for eager audiences back home.

Phileas Fogg and Aouda, illustration by Alphonse de Neuville and/or Léon Benett (1873)

Given Verne’s fascination with modernity he might have had the novel’s protagonist, Phileas Fogg, take a camera to record his travels.  The urgency of the trip could reasonably be expected to preclude dawdling with still-cumbersome equipment, but it may not have been more time consuming than Fogg’s efforts to get visa stamps on his passport as evidence of his journey.  A group photograph of a Cook’s Tour in Italy (?) in 1868 predates Around the World by five years.  The original French publication of the book was illustrated by drawings that seem to stand in for holiday snaps.

Verne makes just two reference to photography.  The first as the adventure begins.

‘On the early days, a few bold spirits, the women principally, backed him [Fogg], especially after the Illustrated London News had published a likeness of him from a photograph left among the records of the Reform Club.’

Fogg is subsequently suspected of a bank Robbery.

‘His photograph, left at the reform club with those of all the other members, was examined, and reproduced  feature for feature the man [the robber] whose description had been obtained at the inquiry.’

The photograph goes from club portrait to publicity shot to mug shot.  It is claimed that Alphonse Bertillon invented modern mug shot in 1888, but Verne seems to have anticipated the idea by 15 years. The original was most likely made by the collodion process and reproduced as an engraving.

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Traces of Erewhon 7

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Pollution over Cambridge

Cambridge from Magog Down, January 2022

View north from Magog Down, mid-day Friday 14th January 2022: Cambridge lies under a blanket of pollution after three windless freezing days.

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Shutter Hub: ‘Post Cards from Great Britain’ and ‘Postcards from Europe’

It’s not exactly the Family of Man for the 2020s, but the scope of these Postcard exhibitions has something of the same attempt to show a shared humanity. 

‘Postcards from Great Britain is a large-scale project from Shutter Hub, which invited photographers to share their visions of British culture through photographic images and create conversations and exchange. Pop-up exhibitions were held in 19 separate locations across Europe, showcasing thousands of postcard-sized images, and this exhibition at Cambridge University will be the 20th and final exhibition in the series.’

Postcards from Europe ‘has been created from a call for response and collaboration, triggered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and reflecting on Postcards from Great Britain … In a significant time in history this exhibition sets out to share aspects of European culture, spanning all genres of photography, and collating images which include social, political, historical, traditional and observational responses.’

Work from both collections is being exhibited at the Alison Richard Building, West Road, Cambridge, from 12th January to 25th February 2022.  The hundreds of photographs are spread over four floors – Europe on the ground, first and second floors, Great Britain on the 3rd.

Brighton 2018

The work covers all genres from landscape to portraiture, documentary to conceptual, architecture to abstract.  If the inevitable iconic attractions are there, they are a blessedly small minority and there is a much greater emphasis on the everyday, on the small scale and on that which the photographers’ eyes have picked out from the confusing mass of sights and scenes that we face every day.  The rich diversity of Britain and Europe is revealed.

Athens 2019

Showing the work at postcard size in inspired.  The emphasis is on the shared intimacy of people talking to people, a way of connecting, rather than the artist/photographer presenting to an audience.  Sadly, it is something of an elegy to the real postcard, an increasingly rare way of making tangible connections.  The small size of the images also allows for a large number to be included in the show, which compensates for the disadvantage that some are rather too high up to be read easily. Five of my pictures are included in the GB section and four in the European.

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Five Facets of Photography – Ideas that Changed Photography: Straight Photography

Blind, Paul Strand, 1916

In the early years of the 20th Century it was increasingly realised that photography would not be taken seriously if it simply aped painting.  Ironically, Alfred Stieglitz, a supporter of the pictorialist Photo Secession in the US, was midwife to the birth of modernism in photography and its acceptance as an art form. He devoted the final issue of Camera Work to Paul Strand (1890-1976) in 1917, together, they focussed photography on its singular qualities.

  • It can present the photographer’s unique, personal vision
  • It presents fragments of actuality pictorially organised
  • The silver print produces a unique range of tones
  • High quality prints are valued objects, not mere paper, in their own right
  • It is capable of working as single images or sequences.
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Five Facets of Photography – Ideas that Changed Photography: Marketing/Advertising

Edward Steichen, Art et Decoration, 1911

Advertising in the 19th century relied mainly on the power of the description of the product’s excellence and occasional unconvincing illustrations.  Recognition of the value of pictures, the improved technology of reproduction and the growth in newspapers and magazines provided a great stimulus for photography.  Kodak was an early exploiter of this.  The magazine Art et Decoration was the first to publish fashion photographs in 1911.

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Christmas Cards

Christmas is a disappointment, or at least that’s what might be concluded from the cards I received this year.

I’ve often wondered what picture of how Christmas is seen you’d get from analysing the frequency of festive motifs or symbols depicted on the cards that we still send by the millions in the digital age.  So I went through my 64 cards to see how often different images appear.  Snow tops the list with 31 occurrences, hence the disappointment, as a white Christmas is very rare over much of Britain.  Still, I suppose it shows believe in magic and approach the season hopefully.

Christmas trees (18) are the second most common subject followed by stars (17), then come holly and decorations (10 each).  The nativity (9) comes in in 6th place – it goes up a bit if angels (3) are added – followed closely by presents (8) and churches/cathedrals (7).  Evidence, if it were needed, that Christmas is largely a secular (or commercial) affair.  Robins (6), Father Christmas (3) languish down the list, perhaps surprisingly. 

Eleven of the cards were photographs, with snow (6) and religious buildings (4) the most common motifs.  Two had no connections with the occasion, but were simply nice pictures, of which their senders were clearly proud.

So, whatever else we hope for at Christmas snow tops the list.  But, if my cards are anything to go by, we do at last seem to have given up the longing for snowy trips by coach and four to cosy Dickensian inns.

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Five Facets of Photography – Ideas that Changed Photography: Tabloids

In 1903 Alfred Harmsworth started the first modern tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror, in London. Appealing to the mass market, it presented the now familiar mix of crime stories, human tragedies, celebrity gossip, sports, comics, and puzzles.  Photographs were an essential part of the appeal.  Eight years after its founding the paper made a major scoop out of the Siege of Sidney Street.

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Blue Rope – Painswick

29th December, almost the end of the year. Duck and hosin sauce pizza (really) in the Waypoint at Painswick Golf; blue rope spotted on the way up to Painswick Beacon.

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Christmas Eve morning view from my window.

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Fen Landscape – Rampton

The Irams, Cow Lane, Rampton, December 2021

Cow Lane, Rampton, Sunday 19th December, shortly after photographing the sheep posted on the 20th.

Cow Lane, Rampton, December 2021
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Fen Landscape – Cottenham

Cottenham, December 2021

Sheep have been grazing on land east of the Cottenham Race Course for several months. No grass here – they seem now to be surviving on some kind of break or cover crop. (And no seasonal shepherds watching the flock.) Whatever, livestock is rare in the Fens and they are a welcome sight.

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Shutter Hub – Road Trip

A new call for submissions from Shutter Hub.

Bagdad Cafe, Syria, 2010

We’re inviting you to put your images forward for our second publication, ROAD TRIP. Shutter Hub Editions, our new publishing house, launched in 2021, creating a collection of beautiful printed publications, featuring themed and solo books for people who love photography to collect.

There’s something wonderful about a road trip, whether it’s getting the best seat on the bus and going long distance to visit a relative, cycling cross-country up hill and down dale, or driving the back-roads on a journey of freedom and exploration through an unknown place, there’s a certain sense of nostalgia and adventure that can’t be matched – but it can be photographed!

We want to see your road trip images, whatever they are. Take us with you, show us how you travel, where you go, the open roads, the places you stop, the reasons you travel, and everything in-between… even the car snacks!

What does ROAD TRIP mean to you?

100 images will be selected for inclusion in the book. 6 images can be entered per photographer.

Deadline for entries: 24 February 2022 (5pm GMT)

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Five Facets of Photography: Ideas that Changed Photography – The Web

The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.  On 18th July 1992 he uploaded a promotional image of four slickly dressed women, the first photograph to be published on the web.  The most radical innovation in disseminating photographs since the appearance of the first half-tone reproduction in a newspaper in 1880?

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Five Facets of Photography: Ideas that Changed Photography – William Eggleston

The Red Ceiling, William Eggleston, c. 1973

In 1973-74 William Eggleston discovered dye-transfer printing. The process resulted in some of Eggleston’s most striking and famous work, such as his 1973 photograph The Red Ceiling, of which Eggleston said, “The Red Ceiling is so powerful, that in fact, I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction. When you look at the dye it is like red blood that’s wet on the wall… A little red is usually enough, but to work with an entire red surface was a challenge.”  Eggleston’s work was exhibited at MoMA in 1976 and is regarded as a key moment in the history of photography, by marking “the acceptance of colour photography by the highest validating institution” (Mark Holborn).

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