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1906–Photos of Everyday People

How things can change and others events remain the same after one hundred years. Viewing photos can really help put us back in another time and place, providing us today with a sense of how our ancestors lived. Generally we only see photos from the turn of the 20th century as formal portraits, staged images in a conventional studio. However, there is a great photo collection done by an enthusiastic amateur photographer named Edward Linley Sambourne in 1906 of some very casual, relaxed and everyday scenes in England and Paris, France.

Sambourne used a concealed camera to capture everyday people on the street going about their lives. This way no one was posing, but rather very natural. In fact the individuals never realized they were being photographed. With no names taken or permission granted, decades later we do not who they are, but rather they represent collectively a life-style of the period, one shared by most all our ancestors at the turn of the 20th century, wherever they lived. This was really a revolutionary concept for 1906. This fantastic collection is housed now at the United Kingdom Kensington and Chelsea Libraries in the ‘Library Time Machine‘.

The first set of images are really special, scenes at the beaches and seashores of Brighton and Folkestone in England and at Weymouth. Sambourne really captured people enjoying the sand and beach, even if they were still fully dressed, including the fashionable large hats. Yet there are some photos of people dressed in the latest beach wear and then changing into their street clothes in the portable bath houses. Note that he really liked to photograph the ladies.

Paris, France street scenes are in the next set with the horses and carriages everywhere. It appeared the ladies of Paris were very formally dressed. Several photos shows how the men and children were also in formal attire.

Especially in England in 1906 this was known as the Edwardian period in fashion, social behavior, etc. King Edward VII was the son of Queen Victoria and had taken the throne at age 59 on his mother’s death in 1901. The third set of images were taken around the Kensington region of London. These would be true example of the proper Edwardian fashion style.

Edward Sambourne had been a career illustrator and cartoonist for English publications, but found great joy in candid photo taking of everyday people, which he had really done for many years. His photography ended on his death in 1910, but what a treasure of images have survived.

Such fun looking at these photos. My paternal grandparents were a young married couple in England in 1906 and I can get a better glimpse into their world through these images.

Photo above: On Sept. 8, 1906, Sambourne photographed this young lady and her bicycle in Kensington.

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