Christina in Red
April 24, 2015 5:12 PM   Subscribe

A girl at the beach, one year before WWI. In 1913, Amateur photographer Mervyn O'Gorman took beautiful, vivid photos of his daughter using an early color photography process called autochrome.

Previous autochrome posts: 1, 2, 3
posted by Alexandra Michelle (29 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting how the composition and poses reflects Victorian narrative painting tropes and conventions, looking away, hunched down, holding a flower, it's also very high romantic / art nouveau way of framing and posing a figure -- like it looks like it could've been used to create period adversitments for soap.
posted by The Whelk at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2015 [19 favorites]

At the same time they look totally contemporary. I know she's wearing a cloak in the third picture but that could totally be a teenager in a hoodie in any clothes advert now. They're beautifully dreamy but not in a dated way I don't think.
posted by billiebee at 5:35 PM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by saul wright at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2015

As to Christina's life, there are no recorded details.

I would say that, in fact, these photos are more meaningful recorded details of her life than a list of dates and offspring. You can tell so much about her and her world from these shots.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:42 PM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

These photos are a product of their time, yes, and yet dreamy enough to seem both timeless and wonderfully modern. I absolutely love looking at plants, too, used ornamentally 100 years ago, because so often they're the same -- geraniums in formal in pots in a larger, structured garden, or the Buddleia, sprawling romantically in heavy bloom. It adds to the timeless feel -- these are the places, and plants, and people who inspire us to capture their beauty and meaning, then and now.
posted by missmary6 at 5:52 PM on April 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

The poses are very painterly (is that even a word?) In a modern sense, I could see these photos being used by a painter who wanted to do Pre-Raphaelite style piece. Time, all wibbly-wobbly, and so very in the moment. These are lovely.
posted by jadepearl at 6:08 PM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

These are beautiful. I'm sure it's because of the colour, but my brain just can't seem to reconcile that they're from pre-WWI. They look much more modern to me than that.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

These look like a lot of the photos in my parents' yearbooks from the 70s. I love the first photo especially, mainly because the detail on the pebbles is just glorious.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by drlith at 6:56 PM on April 24, 2015

Absolutely beautiful and arresting.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:16 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even though the autochrome process has its own characteristics and distortions which, like for example technicolor, are not necessarily realistic it’s amazing to me how much more natural seeming these are than the colorized photos that people produce. I don’t know if that’s because it’s impossible to create vibrant shades in photoshop or because the colorizers think muted shades are more “historic”. Outliers like these photos show us that things were just as vivd in the past as they are now, we just assume the world had a sepia tint — sort of like Calvin’s dad claiming that the world used to be in black and white:
CALVIN: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?

CALVIN'S DAD: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just the world was black and white then.

CALVIN: Really?

CALVIN'S DAD: Yep. The world didn't turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 7:17 PM on April 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

She looks really bummed about the Balkan Wars. Or maybe it's the Ecclesiastical Exemption to the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act.
posted by XMLicious at 9:05 PM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

They look like Maxfield Parrishes in photo, and I think they probably reflect the same artistic impulses. I see them as influenced by the style of Pictorialism, but in color.
posted by Miko at 9:15 PM on April 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hm The Demilked gallery has the colors turned up a bit more than the one at Mashable.

One of the Mashable captions says "O’Gorman captures a timeless scene as his family eat their picnic on the beach in Dorset". It's only timeless until you notice there is not a single piece of plastic in the picture.
posted by aubilenon at 10:12 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's mind blowing how modern these look.
posted by marimeko at 10:13 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow. So many of these pictures could easily be of any modern time. There are only a few clues to date the images at all. Particularly the third photo - it just looks like a young girl in a hoodie with maybe a bit of Instagram filter applied.
posted by dg at 11:27 PM on April 24, 2015

A real 1913 ladies' bathing costume actually looks surprisingly good.
posted by Segundus at 12:03 AM on April 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mervyn died in March 1958 as a widower; his wife Florence had died 27 years earlier in 1931. As to Christina's life, there are no recorded details.

I'm sorry, but the "Christina Mystery" is just way too tantalizing to leave alone.

First, some background: Mervyn's bio from Grace's Guide, IEEE Obituary, Wikipedia. Definitely an interesting character.

Now the bombshell: "Christina," though identified as a daughter of the O'Gormans in pretty much every source, is possibly/probably not O'Gorman's daughter, but a relative or friend of the family. The issue is discussed on rootsweb here and here. The conclusions there are tentative, but here are the reasons to think it may be so:
  • Mervyn's wife Florence was born in 1853, thus 43/44 upon marrying Mervyn in 1897. (She was 74 when she passed away in 1931.)
  • No children are listed as living with the O'Gormans in census records from this time period.
  • No children are listed in Mervyn's 1958 obituary in The Times.
Now none of that is absolutely conclusive--children are born to women in their 40s, maybe the children were away during the census visits, maybe The Times doesn't list children in their obituaries, etc.

But it does make you wonder--who was Christina and was she really O'Gorman's daughter?

I'll dump a bucketload of favorites on anyone who can find out more about her.

Bonus: Another portrait of Christina.
posted by flug at 12:58 AM on April 25, 2015 [16 favorites]

One way into the Christina O'Gorman mystery is to get a copy of both sides of the original prints and see what Mervyn O'Gorman wrote on them. How sure are we that that girl's name is in fact Christina O'Gorman? Perhaps the back of the photographs merely says Christina, and those who believed that she is his daughter have jumped to the conclusion that her last name is O'Gorman? And where did the titles for these photographs come from?

The photographs are held by the The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum. I see one can submit a search of the National Media Museum's archives through the Science & Society Picture Library at this link (, but I have neither the time, money, nor UK residency to pursue this much further.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:52 AM on April 25, 2015

Did I really register and pay $5 after all this time just to point out that some of these images are flipped left to right? It would seem so... The arch shown in two of the photos [2,7] is Durdle Door, some 1.6 miles to the west of Lulworth Cove and it is definitely the other way around in real life.
posted by Spoonfish at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2015 [13 favorites]

I love these pictures so much, and thanks for all the background information, too!
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:07 AM on April 25, 2015

My first encounter with autochromes was the Arnold Genthe collection at the Library of Congress. Here's Buzzer the cat; and Sunset, Carmel Bay, California.

Remembering Autochrome.
posted by gudrun at 8:15 AM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Quite the ana-chrome-ism.
posted by Namlit at 1:10 PM on April 25, 2015

It's only timeless until you notice there is not a single piece of plastic in the picture.

Really, in Dorset? I haven't noticed a great deal of plastic on Devon beaches but then I've not been for a couple of years. I tell you what is timeless is how bloody freezing they look in that picture. Summer on the Beach, bring blankets.

Maybe with global warming that's about to change.
posted by glasseyes at 6:01 AM on April 26, 2015

sweet filters, how do i do that on instagram
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2015

These remind of photos in old (pre-1960s) National Geographic magazines, a style now known as the Red Shirt School.
posted by Rash at 11:16 AM on April 26, 2015

I think he was referring to the lack of plastic in the gear the people have. The cups and saucers for instance are porcelain...on a picnic.
posted by chisel at 12:11 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Color photos from the WWII era are also seemingly rare (although many exist).

The Library of Congress has 1,600 color photographs taken by the Farm Security Administration from 1939-1944, depicting rural and urban life in the US during the depression and pre-war period. They also have a large collection from the final years of the Russian Empire.
posted by schmod at 10:42 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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