Anyone born before the widespread uptake of the digital camera will remember the excitement of coming across a forgotten roll of film still waiting to be developed. Amplify this sensation a number of times and you’ll arrive at what the staff at Hardmans’ House in Liverpool must have felt when they unearthed a cardboard box in the former home’s cluttered darkroom containing 23 such treasures.
Once the residence and working studio of the renowned portrait photographer Edward Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret Hardman (an important photographer in her own right), the perfectly preserved museum is one of Liverpool’s lesser-known gems. From March onwards – following its habitual period of winter hibernation – visitors can look forward to returning to the Georgian terrace where the 38 images which remarkably survived exposure will be available to view as part of a guided tour of the property (advance booking recomended).
Ranging from an example of the classic formal portraits by which the Hardmans’ made their bread-and-butter, through to more experimental shots taken from the house’s windows and street scenes of the roads surrounding Rodney Street; the collection provides a fascinating insight into how the (widely deemed eccentric) couple worked. The experiments they made with light and exposure bear testimony to their creative impulse, while multiple images of the same composition reflect a desire for perfection.
As such, one of the lasting joys of this new find may well prove to be the reminder it serves of the inherently ephemeral nature of photography – both analogue and digital. Not only is it very fortunate that so many of the forgotten images survived, but it also encourages us to reflect on the curious status of many of the photographs taken and consumed today, which exist on far away web serves or in the memory of our smartphone.