SENTIMENT TO ORDER.
By Philip Reynolds.
It can scarcely be questioned that photography is by far the most popular of all methods of illustration at the present day.
For many years it served merely for purposes of portraiture ; then it entered upon a more artistic phase, and really beautiful pictures of scenery and other objects were produced ; next it came into vogue as an economical and rapid means of illustration for magazine and newspaper work ; and now it has been adapted to the illustration of fiction.
From time to time we have published stories illustrated by actual photographs taken from living models, but so far this method has been only sparingly used.
For the purposes of lantern slides, it is now, however, thoroughly recognised that photography affords results otherwise quite unobtainable. Formerly the best slides were hand-painted, and, however delicately the work was done, invariably looked coarse and unsatisfactory when magnified on the screen. On the other hand, a photograph on a slide only 3¼ inches square can be magnified to 12 or 20 feet square without losing its soft, even tones.
Latterly an enormous advance in the preparation of lantern slides has been made by the employment of life models to illustrate tales or poems, and this has been due to the genius and extraordinary versatility of Mr. James Bamforth, of Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
A glance at the accompanying illustrations, all of which have been made from lantern slides photographed from life models, will show the perfection with which nature itself has been imitated.
We have called this article "Sentiment to Order," and it is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Bamforth will produce to order, and at the shortest notice, a series of slides illustrating any imaginable subject and calling forth emotions of pleasure, horror, wonder, or alarm on the part of the audience to whom they are exhibited.
Whether it be a wedding party, a religious gathering, or a horrible murder, the scene is presented with equal facility and with equally excellent results.
Yet the man who turns out such varied and admirable pictures was only an operative painter ; his studio consists of a few rough wooden sheds on a hillside, his scenery is all painted by himself, and his life models are quite untrained, being, in fact, any of his neighbours who are willing to oblige.
A visit to Mr. Bamforth’s establishment at Holmfirth is an experience to be remembered. A quite precipitous bank above the town, so steep that it .was left uncultivated, has been ingeniously transformed into a terraced garden, dotted with the various buildings in which the work of making the lantern slides is carried on.
A large, well-lighted room, some thirty feet long, forms the studio where most of model life groups are photographed. This room in its time has played many parts. One day it may be a church, another a sumptuous ballroom, then a prison cell, and next a wretched, poverty-stricken garret. Again it will serve as the quarter-deck of a ship, the interior of a signal-box, or the bar of a flaming gin-palace.
These transformations are brought about partly by Mr. Bamforth's skill in scene-painting and partly by the presence of a collection of properties which would do credit to many a theatre. As a general rule the background of the scene is a painting, while the foreground is built up of models or "properties."
These are of the most varied and comprehensive character, and occupy a number of large store-rooms. In one corner may be seen a pile of wretched furniture of the most squalid character, serving well for depicting the miserable home of a drunkard. This kind of thing is often wanted, as lantern slides are largely used to illustrate temperance lectures.
Another heap of properties makes up into a comfortable artisan sitting-room, and this, with the former set, serves well to enforce the somewhat worn theme of "Before and after signing the pledge." It must not be supposed, however, that temperance slides are the only things turned out here. A complete set of model signal-levers and telegraph instruments serves to make up an admirable railway signal-box, and this has done yeoman service in illustrating more than one well-known story.
Quite lately that exceedingly popular story, "In His Steps," has thus been illustrated for lantern purposes. In this case a photograph was taken in an actual chapel, as it was necessary to have a minister in the pulpit and singers in the choir gallery. The crowded congregation consisted of people living in the neighbourhood.
In this connection it is often thought that the models must be actors of considerable power, seeing the varied emotions that are expressed so strongly on their faces. But this is by no means the case. The models are simply Mr. Bamforth's neighbours, who take a great interest in his work and are generally willing to sit.
Of course, the photographer selects as far as possible persons whose faces readily lend themselves to the expression of the emotion or character desired. Thus it has happened that some of his bold, bad villains have been really most respectable and law-abiding townsmen, while some of the awful drunkards have been in private life the most sober of men. At the same time it must be admitted that the tap-room of the local public-house has afforded some excellent models.
The secret of the photographer’s success has lain very largely in the fact that the models are usually placed among surroundings so familiar and natural that they pose themselves instinctively.
For example, if a scene in a grocer’s shop is needed, the local grocer’s aid is invoked both for the loan of articles to stock the dummy shop and also for the services of a shopman. This individual, being amid familiar surroundings, acts as he would at his daily work, and so his pose is entirely free from anything "stagey" or artificial.
"The models are only ordinary people," said Mr. Bamforth to us recently ; "but I can generally get them to pose properly and to wear suitable expressions by not giving them much time to think about the matter themselves.
"I generally pose them very quickly if much action is to be shown. For instance, in the picture called 'The Man Hunt,' I took the part of the baker myself. The man who represented the thief was a very poor actor, but I gave him a sudden shake and had the photograph taken before he had time to alter the position.
"Very often I have to excite the models by shouting, or in other ways startling them into the position I require. With children it is quite different — I can usually train them to do whatever I want."
When Mr. Bamforth wants to represent a juvenile gathering or crowd, the local schoolmaster’s help is sought, with the result that fifty or sixty children are sent up after school hours. They come readily enough, and regard the whole business as great fun.
When trees or floral surroundings are desired, the models are sometimes posed in the garden, but the artist usually prefers to depend upon his brush for the foliage, the lighting being so much more under control in the studio.
Occasionally actual scenes have been brought into requisition, as, for instance, in the case of railway photographs on the occasions of the return of a sailor lover or the departure of a soldier son. At these times the officials at the local station have obliged by putting a train on the platform and allowing a crowd to be posed. But with very few exceptions the outdoor scenes have all been arranged in the studio.
When one grasps the elaboration with which these life-model lantern slides are prepared, it seems difficult to understand how they can be produced so cheaply. The answer, no doubt, lies in the great demand for them.
About six hundred new subjects are an average year’s output, and it is nothing unusual for the stock to contain as many as two million slides in sets, besides hundreds of thousands of odd slides, together with the negatives from which they are made. Of course, a large staff of assistants is kept busily occupied. The models are arranged and photographed in the summer, when the light is at the best, while the work of copying and making up slides goes on all the year round.
Another secret of cheap production lies in the fact that Mr. Bamforth paints all his background scenery himself.
"In fact I can never see," he says, "how there can be any profit made out of the work when backgrounds have to be paid for at the usual price. I always paint my own, and have often had a piece of bare canvas 10 feet by 16 feet, and in a couple of hours have had the picture finished and ready for the models.
"When I illustrated the song 'Excelsior,' I painted all the backgrounds, arranged the different foregrounds for each picture, and photographed the groups of models, all between the hours of eleven and six in one day! Of course, this was quite an exception, and I consider it my greatest achievement in background painting in very limited time."
The illustrations which accompany this article have all been made from life model studies by Mr. Bamforth. We venture to think that they speak for themselves, but it may be interesting to point out how some of them were produced.
In the picture on page 340, representing "Nimble Nat," a boy who sacrificed his life for others by remaining on a burning ship, the flames are real ones. The model was posed between a painted background and some timber burning in front of him. This timber, by the way, is kept for the purpose and is soaked with turpentine when a fire scene is needed.
In the picture of "The Lost Chord," an empty organ case was used, the seats and books in the foreground being real ones.
Where water is represented, as in the picture "Alone on the Raft," the models are posed with stage pieces in imitation of water behind and before them.