I’ve just come across the on-line image gallery of the photographs taken by Cecil Sharpe of the singers and musicians from who he collected his music. These are an absolute revelation. Despite the massive expansion of photography in the later 19th and early 20th century it is incredibly rare to see portraits (and this is what they are) of the working-class, particularly rural workers. The only parallels I can think of are the 19th century ‘mugshots’ of criminals taken from police records.
Two things impress me particularly about Sharpe’s images. First is the gaze of the subjects- straight on at the camera confronting the photographer and the viewer. Many are very relaxed and not at all nervous about having their photographs taken. Also, many of these individuals are elderly, they aren’t wearing late Victorian or Edwardian clothes, instead they are dressed in the costume of mid-19th century labourers. With their chin-strap beards and wide-brimmed felt hats they belong to the world of the Tolpuddle Martyrs not Lark Rise…
I was just looking at these too. Quite striking faces. I had never heard of Sharpe until a few weeks ago when I came across a photo in a flea market of a vicar called Francis Etherington, and started to research him. Turns out Etherington played host to Sharp and Karpeles when he was vicar of Minehead, and the Vaughan Williams library holds a collection of letters written by him. http://benicek.blogspot.com/2011/05/rev-fm-etherington-and-knockholt-church.html
Leave a comment