Portrait of Christina wearing a red cloak c.1913. Autochrome by Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society/ National Media Museum
Why I like this by Gemma Padley
When I first saw this image, I couldn’t tell if it was made a year ago or a hundred. Perhaps it is the way the girl is dressed or her pose but to my eye the image looks very modern. I initially thought it could be a fashion photograph from the pages of Vogue in the 1960s or an image in one of the many fashion magazines fighting for space on newsagents’ shelves.
As it turns out, the photograph is by Irish-born British photographer Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman and was taken in 1913.
O’Gorman was an electrical and aircraft engineer who enjoyed taking photographs in his spare time. He used the Autochrome process, an early colour process, which was invented by the Lumiere Brothers in 1907. The image is of his daughter Christina whom he photographed from time to time. There are other photographs of Christina by O’Gorman in the National Media Museum/RPS collection.
Knowing the date of the photograph, I was struck by the vibrancy of the colours for the time. Since we now take colour photography for granted, it’s nice to be reminded that there was a time when practitioners were experimenting with and fine-tuning processes in a bid to create the perfect colour photograph.
It’s a simple photograph really, and there isn’t a lot going on in the frame, but for me the image has an emotional charge and intensity. I love the girl’s pre-Raphaelite looking tussled hair and delicate features, and I wonder what she is looking at.
The word ‘timeless’ is all too often used to describe photographs but I feel this image is timeless in the sense that it could have been taken anywhere at any time. This, for me, is part of what makes it interesting - photographs aren’t always what they seem.
Gemma Padley is a writer at British Journal of Photography and Fade To Black