Saturday, 27 June 2015

Grandpa's contact sheets: rural life

I first blogged back in February about the box of contact sheets from my grandfather, Ernest Elliott, that I'd been scanning and preserving. In that post I showed some of his portraits of older people (check them out here if you'd like to see them), photographed in Portaferry in the 1960s.

Another strong theme running through the images I have is rural life. Grandpa's family business was James Elliott and Co, founded in 1862, an agricultural merchant's supplying local farmers on either side of Strangford Lough. As part of his work he made frequent visits to local farmers. He was a gregarious, friendly man and a good listener, and he clearly won the trust of many of these farmers, who let him photograph them as they went about their work. These images are also from the 1960s, from the Ards Peninsula and Strangford areas.

I don't know if Grandpa realised how many of the agricultural practices he photographed would die out in the years to come. Many of his images show a way of life, fishing and farming which must have been commonplace in Ireland for hundreds of years. More modern life does creep in - there's a lone tractor, for example. But for me, the beauty of these pictures is in the intense hands-on relationship between the farmers and fishermen and their work.

As in my previous post, these are contact sheet images, just intended by Grandpa as indexes and rough guides to what would eventually become carefully developed and cropped, beautifully printed pieces of art. What I'm showing here is imperfect, sometimes spotted by age, sometimes with torn edges. Nevertheless, they have an energy and integrity that  makes them relevant and appealing, both historical documents and moments in the lives of real people.

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