Tagged: slums

In my last post, I raised the issue of photographing the slums and slum dwellers. Some photographers ventured into the slums with a social purpose – temperance advocates, educationalists, child protectionists, housing reformers -while others saw the street characters as picturesque studies for amateur photographic competitions. Liverpool’s slums were famous, and it is not surprising to see so many images of the ‘other side of life’. The images shown above are particularly interesting, despite the rather crude hand-colouring. They are all from a set of 52 lantern slides titled Slum Life in our Great Cities – although they are all photographed in Liverpool. The slide set was published in 1892 by Riley Brothers of Bradford, one of the largest mass producers of lantern slides.
Before cinema, lantern slide shows were a popular entertainment, and a set of slides showing slum life (however tame) would give the audience the vicarious thrill of looking at the less fortunate in society. The slide notes are fascinating:

The set of lantern slides for which this lecture was written have been photographed direct from life in the slums by means of a special detective or hand camera.
It need scarcely be mentioned that this was a work of no small difficulty and at time danger also, for many of the inhabitants in these districts strongly object to have their portraits taken or to be photographed or noticed in any way. The photographer was several times threatened, and at other times taken for a detective officer (he believes that the reason he was not actually molested is due to the fact of his being a very big man) … the pictures give a true insight to the character and habits of the people who live in these districts, as well as the natural expressions on their faces which can be obtained in no other way.

A later note adds: It is generally admitted that drunkenness is the source of the largest proportion of poverty, of vice, of crime, of poorly-clad and ill-fed children … in city slum life, one is struck, nay appalled by the great body of mere boys and girls who are ragged, careless and apparently uncared for.
But this is merely entertainment disguised as social concern. The audience, in the safety of the church hall would be titillated by the pictures of their underclass and would go home comforted by the fact that they would not be sleeping in sheds or outhouses like some of the unfortunate children. Perhaps not unlike the fly on the ceiling reality television programmes we are regularly fed.
The ‘very big’ photographer mentioned was Thomas Burke – whose album of photographs in the LRO contains 27 black and white photographs which all marry up with those in the slide set. Burke (1865 -1941) was a city councillor for Vauxhall and an amateur photographer. His day job was as a poultry and fish salesman in St John’s Market … and that is where my research has run out.

Not so popular Poplar Street

Unromantic Valentine Grove

The debate over slum clearance has been well aired over the last fifty years. There are many who believe the wholesale clearance of housing across Liverpool was an unmitigated disaster and that communities would have been best served by careful renovation of run-down properties. On the other side, there is the argument
that the housing stock was in such a poor condition that only demolition and rebuild would be appropriate if living standards were to improve. The residents of Valentine Grove along with their neighbours in equally inappropriately named Venus and Cupid Streets (off Larch Lea) had already departed when the photograph was taken in 1972.(Who thinks up such street names?). In nearby Poplar Street, the inhabitants were prepared to voice their indignation in a graphic and eye-catching way.
Perhaps not the most photogenic images – but such records are an important reminder of what the city was like and the kind of conditions its citizens endured.

Twenty years ago, back in 1990, a tall, white-bearded American burst into my office holding a box of photographs.
His name was Frank Dugan, born in New Jersey in 1925. Frank joined the US Air Force in 1949 and was sent as a control tower operator at Burtonwood in 1950.

He met Mary Green, from Anfield, at Speke Airport and they married in 1953 after he had demobbed. Fancying himself as a photographer, he took wedding photographs for a living, finishing off his rolls of film with the occasional shot of Liverpool life.

As an American in a foreign city, Frank was fascinated by Liverpool, particularly the endless terraced streets and the poverty he witnessed. Frank returned to the States in 1955 to start up as an antiques dealer and his short career as a photographer was effectively over.
Back in 1990, Frank was hoping to have a book published but there weren’t enough images – so I used many of them in a calendar. The photographs all had that magic quality of freezing time that only photography can achieve. Frank died in 2003 but these images will stand the test of time.

The idea of this blog is to bring to a wider public the thousands of images that are hidden away in archives both public and private. My own collection (of over 5000 historical photographs) illustrates many aspects of Liverpool’s history – the social, topographical, economic and cultural – and I will be posting new images daily to create a unique perspective on the city as seen through the camera’s lens.

Please add your comments. Perhaps you know what happened to the three lads in the photograph. They look desperately poor – but how did they turn out? This is the great thing about the web – it creates communities and shares knowledge in a way that was inconceivable ten years ago.