You’d think, wouldn’t you, that colouring my own and other people’s family photos would be enough for me? Well, no. I have collected vintage postcards and photos for years, originally buying them from market stalls and charity shops and later from Ebay and Etsy. It is a hobby that I’ve had to stop for a while as I have so many! But last year, I saw some that I couldn’t resist. This wedding photo was one of them.
Above: before colouring. Below: after colouring.
The words on the card were difficult to read but I could make out the photographer’s surname Swaine, with two initials before it. Beneath that a number and ‘New Bond St. W.‘ The W will be for ‘West’ and New Bond Street is in London. I’ve since found out the address was 146 New Bond Street and the photographer was F. A. Swaine. I hadn’t known the period of the photo but it seems Swaine’s ‘active dates’ (according to this source) were circa 1919-1938. I thought this was 1920s or 1930s, so that fits.
Bought from Ebay, the seller’s description gave no date, but said simply “Posh wedding party, New Bond Street”. That made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile, at first, was trying to choose colours for the clothing… and the flowers. I enjoyed colouring it – in fact I think this is one of my favourites of recent years – but it was difficult to get a balance.
On close-up, the little ribbon decorations on the childrens’ lace collars look like cherries, which made me think that they should be pink or red. Red seemed too glaring for what were probably white or off white dresses, and when I did it that way, it didn’t look right. I tried pink but it still wouldn’t balance. So I changed it to green. (Who knows, maybe it was apples… little green apples, anyone?) That fitted in nicely with the colours I’d chosen for the wallpaper and curtains.
I’d already done the two young women’s outfits, and despite knowing that a wedding would have been carefully planned down to the matching outfits – and despite hearing my mother’s voice in my head saying “you can’t possibly have green and blue together” I thought, “Oh yes, I can!” and did.
Here’s the thing about colouring photos of completely unknown people. You have the luxury of being able to make your own choices. Apart from any period concerns (for instance, fluorescent orange is only really going to look right on a photo from the mid 1960s onward) it’s impossible to consult any relatives about family or individual preferences.
I’ve coloured photos for people who are very definite about what colours their relatives would and wouldn’t have worn. That is very helpful to me as, not only does it help fix in my mind what to use, but it helps me see each person in a photo as real, living, breathing people. Because, to me, even though most are now long gone – they are still alive in their photos.
And the daisy-like flowers? For all I know, they might be white or yellow… or pink. Or lilac. But as soon as I saw them I thought of some little flowers we used to grow in pots on our patio and they just ‘told’ me “colour us like them”… and so, I did. And, for a change, I didn’t worry about getting smooth colour changes in them, I just made free with the brush! I wouldn’t do that, though, on anything that was going to be enlarged by much. Who wants arty flowers in a period photo? Well, okay, some people might.
I love this group of people. It doesn’t matter to me that they are ‘posh’. They were all living, breathing people with their own lives, and own concerns. Look at the children. One of them is crying. At a guess, I’d say that this photo was taken at the end of a very long and tiring day. The young woman behind her (her mother?) has her hand on the little girl’s shoulder, trying to comfort her. I think you can see in the woman’s eyes that she’s battling the urge to attend to the child while she sits still for the camera. In her eyes and mouth seem to be the words “Oh… but I can’t… but I need to…”
The child sitting bottom left has been distracted by something in the distance, and the little girl to her side is having an inner conversation with a flower! I fancy she’s telling it “You absolutely must sit still now!”
The bridegroom is the man on the right, with fairish hair. How can I tell? Because the other man has family features and Mr Dark-Blond doesn’t. Similar eyebrows, similar eyelids, and many in the photo have very similar lips.
I think the bride and the two women in blue are sisters. Don’t you think?
When I colour and restore photos, I have an almost constant mini-story going through my head. These people tell me about themselves as I work.
What are they telling you?