I don’t buy many photographs these days. Occasionally the odd item catches my eye but I have restricted myself to only exceptional images (usually nineteenth century) that add to my collection rather than duplicate what I already have. That said, I couldn’t help buying a lantern slide I spotted on Ebay a few weeks ago. The subject matter was familiar and not particularly outstanding but what interested me was the name in the corner of the slide: C Inston.
Charles Frederick Inston was one of Liverpool’s foremost photographers at the turn of the nineteenth century. Highly respected throughout amateur photographic circles for his street life and river photographs, he was the President of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (LAPA) as well as a valued committee member of the Royal Photographic Society. In 1979, I curated an exhibition of his work at Open Eye Gallery based on copies of a set of lantern slides belonging to LAPA. Thirty years later, in 2009, I published a book of his work: Liverpool Characters and Streets (sadly no longer in print).
Inston was an interesting man. Born in Birmingham in 1855 to a carpenter, he served an apprenticeship as a printer before, at the age of 24, trading in his own name as a lithographic and general printer at 72 South Castle Street (later moving to 25 South John Street – now absorbed into Liverpool One shopping precinct). He lived initially in Chapel Road in Anfield before moving to 15 Belmont Drive (off West Derby Road – the house still stands although now rather shabby and in multi-occupancy). He died at the age of 61 after a long illness and the best information about him can be found in the fulsome obituaries in the photographic press. The British Journal of Photography wrote: Inston, the man of character and organisation, existed side by side with Inston the technician in pictorial photography and the personal characteristics of the man were marked equally in both fields of his activities. He was no poseur. He loved artistic work for its own sake … His own pictorial work was characterised by a frankness and vigour …
The Amateur Photographer concurred adding … he was a keen pictorial photographer and lecturer, a leading exhibitor and judge and a clever worker in the bromide, platinum and bromoil processes and also one of the earliest and best demonstrators of the pictorial possibilities of the hand held camera.
The lantern slide I have purchased is not a great Inston – but it is my only photograph of one of Liverpool’s most important photographers. The sad truth is that little of his work is left. Liverpool Record Office has an album of contact prints (of variable quality) and the Royal Photographic Society has a handful of his exhibition prints of seascapes. These apart, the only other substantial body of work is the set of lantern slides I copies back in 1979. They were in the possession of LAPA’s archivist, Joe Williams, who died in the 1980s. LAPA merged with South Liverpool Photographic Society, so I hope the slides are safe – they are an important record of Liverpool and an important part of the city’s photographic history.