Photography doesn’t have much of a history - compared with many other art forms or human inventions that we take for granted in our daily lives. What are not even two hundred years compared with cave paintings that date back thirty five thousand years (give or take a millennium or two)? But then, our world has changed much over the course of the last thirty five thousand years, and a large part of that change has happened over the past few hundred years - or maybe just one hundred years, if we look at all the various things we now take for granted: Synthetic antibiotics were invented after photography, as were air travel or computers. It is true, we could probably imagine a world without air travel or computers, but I’m not so sure we really would want to do without antibiotics any longer. Plus, there are societal changes we cannot imagine living without any longer: Universal suffrage, civil liberties, human rights. So despite its relative youth, photography has - literally - witnessed a lot of change in the way humans live. What makes photography unique, of course, is that it offers us visual testimony of that change, by showing us images taken in the past.
It is hard to imagine a world without cell phones, cars, computers and all the other things we take for granted, but photography can offer us access to one. A Village Lost and Found does just that, by literally showing us the world of a small rural English village, Hinton Waldrist, in the 1850s - using stereo images. You did not misread this, it is the 1850s, which is not all that far after the invention of photography, and the images are in stereo. They were originally produced by Thomas Richard Williams, and - including variants - there are 80 of them. They were compiled by Brian May (yes, that’s the Brian May) and Elena Vidal over the course of many years.
A Village Lost and Found presents each and every one of these images, with explanations of what they contain and, where possible, where they were taken - often with contemporary images to compare (these are also in stereo). The book comes with a stereo viewer, so you can see a rural English village in the 1850s just the way it was - or maybe as close as you will ever get. A Village Lost and Found really is a bit of a time machine, certainly if you allow your imagination some freedom (and if you take the time to read the book).
A Village Lost and Found certainly is a good reminder that contemporary photography has emerged from all kinds of beginnings, including this one, where a photographer tried to produce a portrait of a whole village. The stereo imagery aside, it is not such a stretch to compare Scenes in Our Village (that was the original title of the set) with the efforts of some contemporary photographers.
And maybe A Village Lost and Found can serve to rekindle the passion for photography in those who like to complain about how there’s nothing new any longer, or how photography supposedly is “dead”: Well, there still is a lot to be discovered. So why not start by looking at something like A Village Lost and Found? I’ll happily admit it was much more fun for me than I would ever have imagined.
A Village Lost and Found, photographs by T.R. Williams and Brian May, with text by Brian May and Elena Vidal, 240 pages, includes a stereo viewer, Frances Lincoln, 2009