Worldwide views for mystery Northumberland pictures

The element of mystery is why a collection of lantern slides in an exhibition at Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives has now been seen in 30 countries in newspapers and online

Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives Left: A group of young women in formal Victorian pose; Right: A Coal Board promotional image of a miner washing in a tin bath
Left: A group of young women in formal Victorian pose; Right: A Coal Board promotional image of a miner washing in a tin bath

Old photographs fascinate because they capture a fragment in time and spark speculation about the lives of their subjects.

The element of mystery is why a collection of lantern slides in an exhibition at Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives has now been seen in 30 countries in newspapers and online.

The slides show Victorians pulling funny faces but Northumberland Archives has no information as to why or where, or their origins.

Other pictures from the archives in the exhibition Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine, exercise the same intrigue.

In a formal pose by Victorian young women, one looks downwards, away from the camera.

Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives Left: Formal Victorian group - apart from the man in the lady's hat; Right, an image from the building of Catcleugh reservoir in Northumberland
Left: Formal Victorian group - apart from the man in the lady's hat; Right, an image from the building of Catcleugh reservoir in Northumberland
 

While the rest of the group have faces which seem to be of their time, she could have walked in from the street yesterday.

Another formal group includes a man wearing a lady’s hat – not what we have come to expect from stern Victorian images.

It is that kind of ambiguity which appeals to exhibition organiser Chris Wild, the founder and curator of the Retronaut website.

On the website, former museum archivist Chris displays images which scramble our sense of the past and often do not seem to belong in the time in which they are set.

Woodhorn invited him to sift through the Northumberland Archives, with his choices forming the exhibition which runs until February 22.

What startles the modern viewer is the contrast between the face-pulling pictures and the usual solemn 19th Century line-ups.

“But in those days because of the photographic exposure times people had to pose in a very still fashion so the image would not blur,” says Chris.

“If somebody in the future based their ideas of us on our passport photographs they would think we were a very serious lot.”

Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives Victorian funny face lantern slides
Victorian funny face lantern slides
 

Director of Museums and Archives Northumberland, Keith Merrin, says: “Countless numbers of people across the globe have shared these wonderful images.

“Archives are one of the best kept secrets of the heritage sector containing amazing records.”

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