The lantern slide tourist, week 4: fashionable spots

Wednesday 23 June 2021

In our previous tours through the lantern slides of the General Rollo Collection we commented on titles and descriptions, on the portrayal of local people and of local animals. This week, our virtual travels will bring us to the tourist sights and standard views expected from a genteel leisure traveller. Many of these photos would have been made by local photographic studios and bought while abroad to show to the folks at home, with an ‘I was there’ sort of smile.

Some of the sites shown in these photos will be easily recognisable. But what makes these lantern slides special is the curious mix of stunning atmosphere and amateur hand-colouring that gives them an unusual and sometimes eerie glow.

The combination of different tones of blue with the bright yellow of the torches reflected in the canal, is sure to give an effect of ghostly luminosity, as in the previous photograph of the Salute basilica in Venice. Warmer colours, however, can also be spectral in their own right, as in the following image of the Basilica di San Marco.

Or, in this multicoloured photograph of Saint Mark’s Square.

A photographic lantern slide is basically a photographic positive sandwiched between two glass plates. To make the photos more expressive, the image was sometimes hand-coloured so that the resulting lantern slide would show the colours when projected. This resource was especially appropriate to depictions of twilight, of dawn and dusk.

Unfortunately, this technique sometimes showed the brushstrokes and imperfections, as in this photograph of the Rialto Bridge, a gondola, a gondolier and a passenger seemingly oblivious to the impressive surroundings.

Venice, the city of dreams, is a fitting canvas for the photographer’s palette and the resulting misty, haunted, atmospheric photographs highlight both the beauty and the mysterious side of the city. But Venice is not unique in this treatment; other photos of popular sites in the collection also display a myriad of colours.

In sharp contrast with the photos of Venice, here the photographer uses more vivid colours when painting the negative. Perhaps they wanted to convey the richness of the mosaics and the stained-glass windows of the palace of the Alhambra and the vibrancy of the traditional roof tiles of red clay. The resulting image evokes a Scheherazade’s tale under the bright Andalusian sun.

The colours chosen to reflect the interior of the Cologne Cathedral are more sombre and enhance the loftiness and grandeur of the high walls, arches and columns of the gothic basilica.

In Canada and the United States, the photographer’s use of reds and purples when hand-painting the image contributed with a hazy look to the foggy atmosphere of the waterfall mist.

When hand-painting, however, the photographer did not keep to tourist and fashionable sites and, in the collection, we have coloured photographs of everyday moments taken during their travels.

For instance, the following snapshot of a meal prepared in a tent during a cycling trip through Scotland, a somehow terrifying still life representation.

Allow me to finish this post and the exploration of the lantern slides from the General Rollo Collection with a photograph that is not hand coloured nor of a tourist site. It was taken on the same trip as the coloured meal above and, because of its vividness and expressivity, this photograph is one of my favourite photos from the collection. I can’t help it, every time I look at the image, I feel the freezing cold water on my face, and I find myself making the same grimace as the man in the photograph!

The photo is part of the ‘Cycling in Scotland’ series and it is fitting that the man portrayed here is refreshing himself after an exhausting ride. But who is this man? Could he be the General Rollo referred on the name of the collection? Or perhaps ‘General’ is used here as ‘general’ designation for a family collection and not as the military title? In the next and final post of the series we will explore the provenance of the General Rollo collection and try to find out!

Pilar Gil
Cataloguing and Documentation Officer

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