Family and Field Work: J.S.P. Ramsay’s Photograph Album

Peck, Julia (2013) Family and Field Work: J.S.P. Ramsay’s Photograph Album. In: The Photograph and the Collection: Create | Preserve | Analyze | Present. Museums Etc., Edinburgh, pp. 60-95. ISBN 978-1-907697-85-2

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Abstract

For amateur bird photographers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, field photography of birds was not only technically challenging, it was also a social activity involving convivial camaraderie and masculine companionship. In the case of J.S.P. Ramsay, fieldwork was also an activity that he shared with his wife, Ethel. Ethel, Ramsay and his family appear intermittently throughout an album that records Ramsay’s life and activities from approximately 1904 through to the early 1930s. This chapter aims to analyse the album through orality. Martha Langford’s useful work on photography albums and orality enables the different social aspects of amateur photography and natural history to be examined and related to each other. Through reading the album structurally it is possible to demonstrate the networks of social activity and knowledge exchange that Ramsay engaged in. The different types of photographs, and its repetitive structure, suggests both professional and personal use. Ramsay’s photography, like much ornithological photography of this period, is seen to be the product of social relationships that include familial relations and the album becomes a trace of Ramsay’s social activities. Ramsay’s album, being constructed during a period of change for amateurs, is an instructive tool for analysing how ‘serious’ amateurs engaged with professional networks of ornithology and photography. Indeed, snapshooters were superseding Victorian gentlemen amateurs in photography and ornithology was becoming more professional. Yet as Peter Buse has noted, wildlife photography was (and still is) one means of proving oneself to be a serious, or aspirational, amateur rather than snapshooter; Ramsay was able to use the networks of ornithology as an outlet for his aspiring naturalist self. Indeed, in his early life Ramsay wanted to be a naturalist (he was the son of a prominent Australian naturalist, E.P. Ramsay) but insufficient income meant that a career as a naturalist was impossible. Ramsay’s interest in photography in his boyhood was spurred by his interest in ornithology and like many late nineteenth century ornithologists he turned away from collecting skins, eggs and nests, to photography. As an adult, Ramsay operated a successful photo processing business and his business success enabled him to undertake ornithological field trips and keep up his ornithological photography. In similarity to other amateur bird photographers, he had a keen interest in technology and home-spun technical solutions. Ramsay published several scholarly articles in his lifetime, which he illustrated with his own photographs, and provided images for other naturalists’ publishing ventures. The album under discussion here records Ramsay’s life and photography in the earlier part of his life and provides a dynamic means of unpacking and interpreting his photographic and ornithological activities. Ramsay’s photograph album enables the amateur photographer/naturalist in the early twentieth century to be examined. Ramsay’s life, whilst in some respects entirely typical of amateur photographers and naturalists, enables the networks of the family, photography and ornithology to be unpacked within a historical understanding of amateurs in the early twentieth century.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: J.S.P. Ramsay, Ornithological Photography, Family Photography, Commercial Photography, Amateur Ornithology, The Emu
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DU Oceania (South Seas)
Q Science > QL Zoology
T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Art and Design > Photography
Research Priority Areas: Being Human - Past, Present & Future
Depositing User: Julia Peck
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2016 10:41
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2016 22:24
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/3279

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