It’s been a while since I’ve showcased one of these old-fashioned hand-colored hi-res photos from the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, so here’s an interesting one depicting a street in the center of Cork, Ireland. I can’t really be more sure of the date than it is some time around the year 1900. The trolley cars probably command attention first, but there are a lot of interesting details to look at here. The trolleys are double-deckers, with seats up top for sightseeing. I’ve never seen that on mass transit of this period before. Somehow despite these double-decker accommodations the trolleys still have room for copious advertising. One of the shops in the background sells pianos. And the streetlights still appear to be gas. At night this street would have a soft golden look, quite different than the steady electric blaze we’re so used to seeing in urban areas today.
I admit I don’t know much about Cork or its history, so the context of this photo is somewhat mysterious. Ireland and Irish affairs were certainly coming to a head at the very end of the 19th century and in the first fourteen years of the 20th, with increasing political pressure on Britain to grant Ireland “home rule” or even outright independence. This was certainly the same era I showcased in a post I made a long time ago about what Dublin was like in 1904, the time when James Joyce’s Ulysses took place there. Certainly there was a lot of social, economic and cultural change going on, and in this photo you can see how the city is sort of a pastiche, with modern ways slowly replacing what Cork must have looked like in previous decades.
The color job on this originally black-and-white photo is not the best. It looks most impressive zoomed out, and becomes least convincing the closer you look. I wonder what someone like Marina Amaral, modern digital colorist, could do with the original image. Still, there’s a lot you can learn from a photo, and that’s the point of this series.