Edwardian Street Style: The Work of Edward Linley Sambourne


Are you kidding me with these?
Do I even need to regurgitate all the reasons as to why these are amazing?

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These have been in circulation and written about since last year, but I had to explain and explore myself. Edward Linley Sambourne was the chief cartoonist for Punch, a weekly British magazine of satire from the 1880's, but as an artist of true voracious caliber, he started to turn his attention to photography in the mid-1890's. Sambourne was clearly bewitched by women, his early cyanotypes were borderline-erotic portraits of ladies in various states of undress, and this should come as no surprise given the outrageous social customs of Edwardian England which made everyone nuts and sexually repressed (here is an exhaustive overview of examples of etiquette). But what's great about those portraits, and what would prove to be amazing about all of his portraits, is that great, painstaking attention to detail of clothing is almost always present. And because Sambourne was a cartoonist, he often took portraits of women and men in ridiculous poses so that he could reference them for drawings (see here).

In the last ten years of his life, Sambourne decided to leave the portrait studio and start working outside. These photos were taken between 1906-1908, and they span between family vacations, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Paris. Most of us folk of the future have absolutely zero capacity to understand what an undertaking medium and large-format photography is, or what it even meant to take a Daguerrotype or cyanotype- especially since our use of film has become more of a thing of nostalgia and craft. Let me tell you what this whole enterprise involved: what Sambourne had to do was take this view camera, which was essentially a larger-than-hand box with bellows and a lens, set the damn thing up in the street with the ambient light and then shoot the photos while the camera was concealed by a bit of cloth or something. Your grandparents probably have a similar camera around their house somewhere, go ask. Oh, and from the looks of the women in these photos, this guy managed to do all this shit discreetly, although there are some photos of some women walking in the same location wearing the same thing, so he might have asked some women to just model for him and look mad casual, a practice, evidently, that continues today. 

Some of the women are a little out of focus due to, y'know, walking, but most of them are quite clear and lovely, captured during an entire stride with details of their dresses and skirts moving.

Dave Walker has chronicled a good chunk of Sambourne's work, and he points out why the photographer manages to get these amazing portraits of women in the street at a time when photography was nowhere near as prevalent as it is now, especially during a time when being discreet and orderly was of the upmost importance:
"...the concept of privacy with regard to photographs taken in the street was underdeveloped in Sambourne’s time. It’s probably true that as an upper middle class man he thought that his right to pursue his art outweighed any violation of his subjects’ privacy. " (via)
Insanely remarkable and fascinating to say the least.

Indeed, what makes these photographs remarkable to me is that they are able to capture the everyday from a period whence portraiture involved meticulous placement and staging. These are (mostly upper-middle class) women wearing what they donned everyday or on holiday. Look at the insane amount of layers and lengths, look at the frills and laces. It's astounding to see such mind-blowing attention to detail walking casually down a street when it's so rare to see anything dubbed as "casual" from the Edwardian era. I love the portrait of the woman in the white dress holding a book, you can see a small street dog scrounging for a scrap of food or something in the background- amazing!

I adore this man and his work, I love these women and their glorious getups, and I want to drown in the exceptional glory that is street style before street style. Eat your heart out, street bloggers.


halle-friggin'-lujah I'm almost done with finals (one day to go and they're OVER!!).
With that said, I really need to knuckle down and start posting more often, so starting this week, I'll be trying to post every day, or at least every two days with something of interest: a shoot, some studio visits here and there, or y'know, one of my narcissistic personal style posts that I love to shoot but can't get over with how self-centered the whole phenomenon can be.
Anyways, hope I don't bore y'all. I'm off to work on my last paper and then procrastinate actual writing by concocting future post ideas❦ ❧

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