Month: November 2010

Elusive Memorabilia

Here’s doing something I’ve been postponing for a while: trying to track down the origins of old postcards/photographs. I’ve recently bought a new batch of memorabilia at the local market, but these ones seem to be even more mysterious than the ones I’ve picked up before. I’ll start with those easiest to pinpoint, I guess. Those are, of course, postcards featuring actors in one or another emblematic role. For some reason, those are also the ones I seem to pick up first. Maybe because I’m naively taken with their bohemian air and the sense that they come from an untouchable world only half-grounded in historical reality… (And apologies again for the low-quality images. I find it much easier to simply use my mobile camera and re-photograph the postcards rather than actually put some effort into scanning them…)


The bottom of this one proclaims: “Mr H.B. Irving as Hamlet”. Printed on the back: TUCK’S POST CARD; “Celebrities of the stage – Raphael Tuck and Sons “Real Photograph” – art publishers to their Majesties the King & Queen”. It seems to be a “divided back” type postcard. A certain history of postcards I was able to find on-line claims that “the divided back era” spreads largely between March 1, 1907 – 1915, when “finally the back of cards were used for both the address and for any message, leaving the front of the cards untouched showing only the beautiful artwork or photography”.

Mr H.B. Irving is, apparently, Harry Brodribb Irving, British actor (1870 – 1919), who did indeed star in in quite a few Shakespeare plays. Interestingly enough, however, he also established a theatre company at some point in his life, which successfully presented, among others, “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Quite remarkably, later in life he also wrote “A Book of Remarkable Criminals”, a sort of biography, as far as I can tell, of the most infamous murderers of the time.

More about H.B. Irving can be found here (link containing some biographical info and lots of photographs of Irving on stage) and here (also about Dorothea Bird, his wife and partner). (And just for the uncanny amusement factor, I give you an image of Irving in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, looking strangely like Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.)


This postcard is a tad more interesting. On the bottom is inscribed the name “Mr George Alexander”, with the photo studio name printed slightly to the right, in cursive font: Ellis & Walery. The interesting bit comes now, because there’s a message added by hand right underneath the actor’s photograph:
Are you there, George?
2 tickets for the stalls, please.

On the back of the postcard (same as above – “divided back” type), J. Beagles & Co., London E.C. is printed, and then, there’s a message in the same handwriting as on the front:
A photo of Our Mutual friend. I hope you won’t be jealous of me using the phrase.
Don’t forget 1’ o clock on Saturday

Signed Edie (???)
And then added, in small writing in the bottom left corner: I must be fond of 7 Chetheroe mustn’t I.

In the half reserved for the receiver’s address, the sender wrote:
Miss Jeanie Mackintosh
58 Corrance
(?) Rd
7 Chitheroe Rd
Acre Lane

Now, this is all very intriguing, and also a bit frustrating, because the writing is hard to read in some parts, so I’m not sure I deciphered everything correctly. Did the sender and the receiver know Mr Alexander, British actor (1858-1918) – as Wikipedia identifies him – , intimately, or is this just an “inside joke” or personal innuendo between the two? Was the person who first owned this postcard (presumably the receiver, also the initial owner of the H.B. Irving postcard, since I found them both in the same small charity box? It would make sense to presume so, since that person was probably a theatre afficionado, possibly even someone who used to work in the field.

I’m also intrigued by the address that the sender first wrote and then crossed out (7 Chitheroe Rd), which hints that the place was probably significant for both the sender and the receiver. I’ve tried to track down the address, but I wasn’t able to. I wonder why it was so important that it would come to mind immediately, that it would make the sender mix up addresses and add “I must be fond of it, mustn’t I”.


This is a normal photo, rather than a postcard, since it is printed on plain photographic paper, and there’s no clue whatsoever of it ever having been turned into a postcard. It also seems to be much more recent than everything else in my “November batch”. Someone has written JANE EYRE on the bottom white border in black ink, and on the back, with the same ink, in cursive hanwriting:
Kathleen Pickard or possibly Richard – the last name is quite indecipherable, so I can’t be sure
David Kirk

I’m assuming these are the names of the two actors captured in the photograph. It also makes sense to assume that this was taken at a staging of “Jane Eyre”. Eeerily enough, I have been able to identify a “David Kirk” cast in a “Jane Eyre” play, but he is blatantly not the same David Kirk in the photograph because: 1. they look nothing alike, and 2. the “Jane Eyre” production featuring him that I was able to find-online is much too recent (2008/09).

I love this photograph for its atmosphere and the unsettling expression on the male actor’s face. I wish I could find out which production of “Jane Eyre” this is from, and I’m curious whether I’d be able to find more photos from the same event. I’ll certainly look for them next time I’m at the local market, but I somehow doubt anything’ll be left…

That’s about it with the postcards/photos of actors… Now to look at the more “personal” stuff, that’s also much more elusive and less likely to be tracked down to the origins…


A beautiful little girl, wearing a white dress I’m jealous of, smiling prettily and holding a flower, posing candidly on a clean-cut path in (what looks like) a very “organised” garden, with an imposing manor-house (or what looks like one) in the background. It makes me think back to the picture of the boy with the toy rabbit I’ve talked about in my previous post, as it has the same sort of feel to it, of a moment snatched from time and completely displaced both spatially and temporally. It is also a photo postcard, as it is printed on postcard paper and has the same “divided back” type as other postcards. It seems like it was never sent anywhere and nothing stands written on it.

The girl looks just like a doll and it seems that she might have had a happy childhood. I wonder when the picture was taken, and whether the girl ended up having a happy life and owning the manor behind her. Was it even her family’s manor? Or was she just visiting somwhere, accompanying her parents?


A group school photo postcard (there’s POST CARD – the address to be written on this side on the back, and also a place for a Halfpenny Stamp). It’s printed on more solid, almost cardboard-like hard paper, and it was probably meant as a school memento. There are no signs of it having been sent anywhere, however. There are 23 boys in the picture, and the one in the middle is visibly taller and older than all the others, which makes me think that he is possibly in charge of the rest of the boys. Was this taken at an all-boys school, judging by the obvious fact that there are no girls in the picture? Or maybe at a boarding school for boys?

I am most fascinated by their expressions, each of them particular: some look confident, some look like they might enjoy bullying others, some look happy, and some look pretty uncomfortable.


Yet another photo postcard (“divided type” back), possibly the most mysterious of the batch. It looks like it was taken at a camp of some sort, what with the big tent, and all the children eating at the long tables out in the open. Some of the people standing in the photo look like they might be caretakes/supervisors.

On the back is printed: Photo by H. Martin, 58 Hunter House Rd., Sheffield, 11.. And right after that, a number is a added in black ink by hand: No 397 – possibly the issue number. Also on the back, also added by hand, but in pencil this time: B B camp £ 2. Does this BB Camp have anything at all to do with the B’nai B’rith Jewish Summer Camp? I don’t know, but it might be possible.

There is no date written anywhere, which is a shame, since that would help a lot in establishing what sort of camp that might have been.

I’m tempted to ask around next time I go to the market, see if I can find out who donated these postcards, whether it’s someone who lives in the area, or whether they’re all being collected somewhere else and then brought to the market… I also wonder whether this rather eclectic batch all used to pertain to the same family, that eventually decided they don’t need such old pieces of paper anymore, and that they might as well donate them to charity… I can’t really understand the people who give away part of their story (obscure as it may be even to themselves), as if it were just one more outgrown clothing item that they don’t need anymore. I am, however, grateful to them. Maybe that’s just the destiny of certain memorabilia: to travel round the world in search for someone who needs their stories, however uncertain and indecipherable.


Of Perverse Pleasures and Murder Mysteries

I remain quite baffled that, apparently, most of the stuff I enjoy is either out of print/stock or really difficult to come by. I went through this when I was looking for Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”, which, for mysterious reasons, was reprinted by Penguin (with an absolutely horrendous cover, if you ask me, but, oh, well) shortly after I wrote my blog post. Same happened with the gorgeously spooky manga that gave me nightmares – “The Dreaming” by Queenie Chan – which I’ve no longer been able to find in book stores (not even in specialised manga/anime/comics stores), but which is, quite thankfully, still in stock on Amazon UK.

[image via Tokyopop website]

More recently, it’s taken me a while to track down a convenient second-hand sale of one of my all-time favourite mangas, GOTH (story by Otsuichi, art by Kendi Oiwa). I’d first read it on-line a few years ago, when it hadn’t been published in English yet. The website where I found it at that time is no longer functioning, but I shall take the chances and share a link that does work: GOTH @ animeA. Unfortunately, their translation doesn’t seem to be all that great, but it’s better than not having access to the manga at all, I’d say. Preferable is, of course, Tokyop’s original translation, published for the first time in 2008, when I should have bought it and didn’t. 😦 Anyway, I own a copy now, but no thanks to the book stores that (as with “The Dreaming”) no longer carry it in stock.

GOTH is a bizarre, macabre, and often graphically violent manga, largely situated in the “murder mystery” genre and dealing (sometimes directly and at other times more subtly) with the psychology of the murderer. The manga is made after Otsuichi’s novel of the same title which I hope I’ll be able to read someday… *sigh* It can be quite a disturbing story at times, as both its main characters are dark and obsessive figures, whose psychologies, though explored, are never fully explained, and who exhibit a sort of sick fascination with the particulars of violent death. The male character, a young high-school student, is, I guess, best described as a “collector” of murders; he obsessively follows all news addressing violent acts that appear in the media, he collects all objects linked to gruesome murders (criminals’ notebooks, photos of mutilated bodies etc) and he dreams of witnessing such murders too. The main female character, his classmate and friend, Yoru, is a young lady continuously shifting from “perfect victim” to “emotionless killer”. She is just as obsessed with crimes and violence, but she’s less easy to grasp, personality-wise: sometimes, she seems to play right into the criminal’s trap, and at other time she seems capable of murder herself. The manga’s narrative is fascinating and oddly alluring, challenging the values and norms of society, the boundary between “good” and “bad”, “motivated” and “unmotivated”. The art is clean, nicely detailed and subtly erotic, adding an extra “bittersweet flavour” to the narrative.

I’m glad I purchased a copy, since I’m tired of missing my opportunity to buy things that I really want. I’ll say this to you: if you truly crave something, get it, and get it now!

Haunting Displacement: Conceptual Art by David Rushton

I’m generally not a big fan of Modernist art, myself, but every once in a while I happen to stumble upon a an expressive little exhibition that leaves a mark upon my consciousness and of which I find myself thinking for days afterwards. So now please let me urge you, if you happen to be living in West Midlands (or if you get a chance to visit the area), do drop by the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry, which is hosting, up until the 3rd January, David Rushton’s exhibition of Conceptual art, Models and Metaphors, Concepts and Conceits.

[image via the Models and Metaphors exhibition webpage]

Well, I’ve never claimed to be anything close to an art critic, and if you’ll have the “in the know” description and explanation of Rushton’s works, then you’d better go visit the Herbert Museum page or the official exhibition link. All I can give you is the heartfelt opinion of one who enjoys visual art and is especially taken with its darker side, the one that appeals to the more shady corners of the human consciousness. That being said, I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve got an ongoing fascination with peepshows (of which I’m most fond of Samuel van Hoogstraten’s): they’re just these perfect microcosms where you can project any number of stories, while you’re completely engulfed in the illusion of a painted box. When I entered Rushton’s exhibition at the Herbert earlier today, I was struck by the uncanniness of a shady room wherein a number of black boxes were neatly arranged and the visitors were warmly encouraged to take a seat and peep inside these framed pieces of displaced reality. When I gave free reign to my “Peeping Tom syndrome” I was almost paralysed by these intricately detailed miniatures, showing series of rooms, all with a 70’s – 80’s feel to them, all completely devoid of any signifier of human activity. Rushton plays with light, sound and general atmosphere within these microcosms, creating (or perhaps recreating from memory) a world which, to me, is eerily reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti’s own spectral cities. These uninhabited/abandoned in-spaces gave me a feeling of anxiety and even paranoia, a sense of unfulfilled expectancy with some rooms, and of subtle displacement with others. For me, Rushton’s peepshows were a perfect echo of Ligotti’s concept of “fake memories”:

Having a head full of false memories and delusions is a condition of being human. One travels down an old road and finds that things are not the way they were remembered to be. How could they have been so reconfigured? The answer, of course, is that they have not changed a bit. The only rearranging that ever takes place is in one’s head, where plenty of peculiar things conspire to change our perceptions all the time.
~ from Thomas Ligotti’s “Introduction” to “Gas Station Carnivals” in the graphic novel version of his weird stories, “The Nightmare Factory (volume 2)”

The link between David Rushton’s exhibition and Thomas Ligotti’s words may not be apparent to everyone, but to my mind it’s like this: Rushton’s miniature rooms, where the existence or lack of light, sound, and human signifiers makes one feel trapped in an uncomfortable past or a dream that’s crossing the line into the nightmare realm, are, in fact, fake memories appropriated by the viewer, assimilated in their own head and recreated into fragments of personal stories with a haunting quality.

Mr David Rushton, I’m sure I’ve completely thwarted your original meaning, but I guess you won’t mind if some chance visitor of this neglected blog happens to feel persuaded by my clumsy attempt at talking about visual art!

Another completely unrelated P.S.: My book review (about Mathias Malzieu’s wonderful novel, “The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart”) was published by the alt webzine for ladies Mookychick! Their mantra is: Mookychick believes that climbing trees and riding giant turtles is more fun and girly than worrying about make-up. But if you want to worry about make-up instead of turtles? Fine by us. Be you feminist, riot grrrl, kitten, punk, emo, indie, goth, witch, harajuku, vegan, horror junky, intellectual, corset queen, geek, unicorn, burlesque, gothic lolita, sea monkey… be you into gothic clothing, holistic health, wicca, paganasim, xtianity, comics, anime, j-pop, harajuku or jock culture… we will always love you. The webzine is cool and so is my (shamelessly advertised) book review, so you should go ahead and check them both out! xD