Early pictures bring past alive

RARE photographs taken over a century and a half ago have come back to life thanks to the latest techniques of digital photography.

David Kindred

RARE photographs taken over a century and a half ago have come back to life thanks to the latest techniques of digital photography.

Ipswich man Stuart Grimwade has spent many hours at his computer screen restoring vintage photographs taken on Christchurch Park, Ipswich, many of them taken by pioneer photographer Robert Burrows.

Burrows was born in Ipswich in 1810 and worked in the family silversmith business in Silent Street. He was a brilliant artist and his landscape oil paintings are now worth thousands of pounds.

By 1869 his reputation had grown and he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the British Institution.

Photography was first patented in 1839 and in the early 1850s Robert Burrows took an interest in the new means of recording an image

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More than 300 of these tiny fragile images are stored at the Suffolk Record Office in Gatacre Road, Ipswich, and Stuart has been given permission to restore some of them for an exhibition now on display at the Reg Driver Centre near the Bolton Lane entrance of Christchurch Park.

Stuart said: “I would like to thank the Ipswich branch of the Suffolk Record Office, the staff of the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service and the Friends of Christchurch Park, for their help in preparing the material for this exhibition.

“Very few photographs from these early years of photography survive and most of them are of London scenes. The long exposure times of Robert Burrows' photographs mean that the people in the photographs are static and posed”.

An artist's eye and the use of good composition with foreground and background interest, shows how Burrows adapted his skills with the brush to the then new technology of photography.

He spent a lot of time posing his volunteer subjects to create a scene with plenty of human interest.

He must have been a prosperous man to have had the money to spend on photography when many people in town were living in appalling conditions with not even enough money to feed themselves properly.

The clothing of those featured shows they were also of the wealthy set in town.

- Part of the exhibition at the Reg Driver Centre includes a display of items found in the Round Pond when it was recently drained and restored. There are rare coins, buckles and toys etc.

- Photography was first patented in 1939. There were two processes, one a French process, which was not used much after the 1840s.

The other was English and was the basis of the negative to positive process known to everybody until it was largely replaced in recent years by digital imaging.

Twenty years later when Robert Burrows was taking photographs primitive cameras were on sale. They were a small wooden box skilfully made by cabinet makers with a brass bound lens and simple focusing system.

There was no film on sale, photographers had to make their own.

The first photographs taken with the English process were on waxed paper negatives. In 1850 the problem of coating glass with light sensitive emulsion was solved and for many decades negatives were made on glass plate.

Both processes meant carrying a lot of chemicals etc to the scene to make and process the plates until the late 1870s when film as we know now became available.

The early process involved albumen from egg whites to produce photographic paper. In the mid 1860s it was estimated that six million egg whites were being used each year in the making of photographic paper.

I am not sure which of the English processes Robert Burrows used, but he would have printed his negatives on to light sensitised ordinary writing paper giving the photographs an artistic texture.

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