The lantern slide tourist, week 3: local animals

Julie Greenhill
Thursday 10 June 2021

Last time, in our exploration of travel photographs from the General Rollo collection, we commented on the portrayal of local people. This post will continue with the same ‘local’ theme but this time referring to native animals, in particular to the photographer’s interest in portraying animals at work, be they oxen, cows, donkeys, horses or even dogs.

When thinking about working animals, one of the first images that comes to mind is that of oxen ploughing the land. There is something about the beauty of the straight parallel lines furrowed at constant pace by these noble, heavy and patient animals that captivates the eye. Perhaps it was this contrasting beauty that moved the photographer to take these shots, or maybe the reason was to portray the farmers who worked alongside the plough or to immortalize an ancient practice that, with the use of steam and then with tractors, was rapidly disappearing.

These two photographs were taken while travelling in Switzerland. On another trip to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany the photographer found another ox at work, this time pulling a two-wheeled cart with a man standing in it…

…and a weird looking chicken observing the scene.

Continuing through Belgium it was a different animal, however, which grabbed the photographer’s attention, according to the number of slides in the collection showing them at work. The images are all so expressive that it was difficult to choose a couple for this post, so we decided to show them all.

In Belgium and the Netherlands dog-drawn carts were a common image on the streets until the first decades of the twentieth century. They were mainly used to transport milk churns and other dairy products, but also vegetables and groceries. They were useful for supplying goods in narrow city streets, where carts pulled by larger animals wouldn’t have enough room and were difficult to steer.

Although usually working in pairs sometimes a single dog pulled a heavy load, like the one in the following image.

Carts pulled by only one dog were usually employed by pedlars. We don’t know the wares that the boy in the next photo was selling, but he certainly looks dapper, posing in front of the cathedral’s doors.

Considered the horses of the poor, dog-carts looked like those pulled by horses, but in miniature. There were regulations on the care, feeding, and rest that these pack dogs were to have, but even so, the living conditions of both owners and dogs were not within the reach of the regulations.2 The practice of using dog-carts was banned in Britain from the mid-19th century, but continued in continental Europe.3

In the following photo, a dog rests while another one is harnessed to a small wagon carrying jars, possibly of milk.

After the banning of dog-carts, some countries imported donkeys from Spain to do the job.1 Donkeys had the advantage over other draught animals that they could cross steep and narrow streets that horses or cattle could not.

Traveling in the Pyrenees, the photographer took this snapshot of a donkey at work, carrying jugs of water.

Donkeys, patient, clever and very social animals, have been used to carry heavy loads for more than 5000 years. They are often preferred to horses as pack animals since they have more strength for the same size. Tasks involving the pulling of heavy carts and carriages, where speed – and sometimes elegance – is required, are often reserved to horses.

This photo, taken during a trip to Canada and the United States, shows three horses waiting patiently while ice is loaded in a wagon in a deserted Detroit street, under the watchful eye of, possibly, the business owner. It takes us to another era, where the growing cities demanded refrigeration in the summer and heat in the winter. This photograph talks of contrasts, that of ice and coal, of the opposing needs of the seasons, of the different social classes, of the quietness in a street that we envisage busy and noisy just a few years later, when the patience and the nobility of horses would be replaced by the smoke and the noise of motor vehicles.

All these working animals portrayed in the lantern slides of the General Rollo collection needed some equipment to help them work. Another photo from the collection takes us to a shop selling bridles, saddles, and equipment for horses and other pulling and packing animals.

Located next to a grocery store under a porch in the city of Lugano, in the Swiss region of Ticino, is the “Antica Selleria Eugenio Morandi”. This saddlery shop originally specialized in leather work but changed the direction of their business a few years after this photo was taken. During the First World War, the Morandi company was dedicated to the design and manufacture of leather pneumatics to deal with the shortage of truck tyres.4

Next week in our exploration of the General Rollo collection we will abandon the ‘local’ theme and will look at tourist spots, the expected photographs from a genteel leisure traveller, but with some twists!


Pilar Gil
Cataloguing and Documentation Officer

  4., page 334.

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