Centennial Self-Portraiture

Parallel Earth: 571454
Exhibition: The World In A Haze
Parallel Historians: Sean Proper and Ben Tumbling.

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Going to Work (Self-Portrait Series 04)

Aldous Proper (b. 1864, Glasgow, Scotland), 1892

Photographic prints

These photographs depict a scene from the life of Master Engineer Aldous Proper, who worked for the Imperial Shipyards in the Albion Overseas Base in Portland, Maine. In 1892, photo essays such as these were part of a growing trend made possible by the proliferation of compact cameras with built-in cavourite light sources. They were indicative of a growing population of proud, adventurous, and educated middle class who were exploring the new technological marketplace.

Transcontinental periodicals, delivered at high speed by dirigibles and Hermes-class trains, not to mention the Scottish telefax, filled their pages with increasingly intimate stories from across the empire. They showed how the people in military bases and colonies, literally and figuratively, far from Great Britain lived their lives. The world was becoming more connected and more vivid.

Political commentators, mostly from the older moneyed elite, criticized what they described as the shallow and narcissistic behavior of the new generation. Conservative newspapers termed them “centennials”.

However, what started as casual entertainment, tinged with more than a little exoticism, soon became groundbreaking. The new media facilitated cultural exchange across borders at an unprecedented scale. Whereas before centennialism, public opinion was crafted by the various dailies and their powerful patrons, afterwards, the masses had more access to first person accounts written by laymen. In addition, these cultural artifacts were published by smaller presses which owed their continued existence to the public’s demand not for the polished narrative of what was basically government propaganda but for authenticity.

phm logo for front page

For more images from the Aldous Proper collection, click here. Click on the + icons below to leave a comment, ask a question, or receive updates.

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