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Tony Grist

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Early 20th Century Dreamboats [Feb. 5th, 2017|01:01 pm]
Tony Grist
In a comment on a previous post sorenr says "I still find it interesting that young men in those days are largely represented as unashamedly pretty in portrait photography. There is often an almost effeminate (to the modern eye), Valentino-esque quality, especially the lips and eyes."

As it happens I have a couple more photos that perfectly illustrate his point.  To begin with, there's this extremely glamorous image of my great-uncle, Harold Bridges- my grandmother's brother (previously seen as a small boy in Easter finery)- as a soldier of the Great War. For those who take an interest in such things I believe he's sporting the cap badge of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment.


I can't tell you much about Harold. He died in his fifties, of something complicated, and his younger sister Joan is listed on the death certificate as next of kin. He never married and from the not-in-front-of-the-children way in which he was spoken of by the adults I've always assumed he was gay. At the time of his death he was working as an estate agent's clerk.

And then there's this, my grandfather photographed by The Hollywood studio (no less) in Bogota sometime in the early 1920s. Much Vaseline has been applied to the lens and if the result isn't the spitting image of Valentino or Ramon Novarro it's not for want of trying...

Yes, it's a bit blurry, but then so is the original. Blurry is a deliberate aesthetic choice.

What was my grandfather doing in Bogota? I don't really know. Overseeing some engineering project or selling heavy machinery I suppose. He was newly married and a rising star in his profession.

[User Picture]From: sorenr
2017-02-05 01:40 pm (UTC)
A lot of them almost look as if they're wearing lip-gloss - and their skin is always flawless to a degree that modern film stars would envy.

I'm personally grateful that there is one picture from my youth that somehow glamorises me; back-lit, the hair as blond as strands of silver and the sides of my face merging with the white background due to the deliberate manual development of the picture. And that one picture is enough, really; I'm perfectly happy for every other picture to show me as I really looked at the time - or look now - but it IS nice to have that image of how a man who loved me saw me and chose to represent me. (Also, I was 21 or 22 at the time so it wasn't like he had to do a lot of retouching.)

Perhaps that's one of the keys to the WWI military portraits? They were all so impossibly YOUNG! And the photos were often taken before they went off to the war, so there's still that sense of innocence that later portraits might not have.

No matter how you interpret them I do think these military portraits are fascinating. Glamour shots of men in uniform if you will. (And for obvious reasons I'm very drawn to the picture of Harold - but it's also a very dramatic image with the deep shadow over the eyes and the high collar.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-02-05 01:51 pm (UTC)
Harold's picture is not your standard commercial studio portrait of the era. Most Great War portraits are like my grandfather's- full face, formal, innocent. Whoever took it was after atmosphere- sexiness even. Harold seems to have mucked about with his cap, made it more bouffant. It makes me think of Marlon Brando in the Wild One. It's a pretty strong image.

I wish I knew more about Harold. Interesting guy....
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2017-02-05 02:09 pm (UTC)
In a sense such a truncated story as Harold's makes me rather grateful that mine will be... Well, it WILL be truncated, because I will be that uncle - and not a direct ancestor - but at least I will not be "the one with the rather secretive life who may or may not have been gay".

I almost feel like conjuring up the story of Harold's life, just so there IS a story. Be it true or not. (And considering what documentation there is of gay life in the first half of the 20th century... Well, there are likely to have been some back alleys and cottages involved - unless, of course, he truly just never met the right woman. I'm sure that must also have been the case for quite a few bachelors - though for his generation surely he must have been prime choice, considering how many men were lost from the population.)

Can I share the image and your paragraph directly beneath it? (It would be on Facebook and with no link to LJ so no identification of you or Harold beyond his first name.) Please, do feel free to say "no" if you don't feel comfortable with it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-02-05 02:19 pm (UTC)
I'm perfectly happy for you to use the material in any may you like. After all, you generated it. I wouldn't have posted the image without your prompting. I have no problem with you using my name or Harold's. I don't see him having any objections.

There are no surviving Bridges. He was the only male child and his sisters' children have other names.

I have other pictures of him- or think I do. I'm going to do some enhanced research...
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2017-02-05 02:32 pm (UTC)
I try to not use Facebook for "look how great my life is" or "OMG TRUMP IS TERRIBLE" but either find little stories about my life or - as in this case - other people's lives as far as they are relevant to my own. And clearly I'm "the end of my line" (though both my brothers have kids) so there's that affinity. I could have been Harold. Gosh, this is quite emotional, really!

(You can see I'm already making up a proxy character for Harold... It's part of the reason why I'm no good at family history; I invent things, so I do best with people where very few facts are known.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-02-05 05:19 pm (UTC)
As you may already have seen I've given you more material to work with...

Please make whatever use of it you like. I think Harold would be happy to be remembered- even if we are fictionalising him.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2017-02-05 08:14 pm (UTC)
To begin with, there's this extremely glamorous image of my great-uncle, Harold Bridges- my grandmother's brother (previously seen as a small boy in Easter finery)- as a soldier of the Great War.

He looks like he's starring in a film about it. The three-quarter distant gaze, the rakish angle of the cap, the soft shadow across his eyes—he could be having a romance with Colin Clive off set of Journey's End. Do you have any information about the photograph itself, who took it, where?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-02-06 11:33 am (UTC)
'Fraid not. The photo just is. Someone has written Harold's name on the back- so we know it's him- but there's nothing to say who took it or where.

It's got to be the work of a professional, I think. It's just too accomplished and knowing to be amateur work.
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