A Declaration of Love

written for the stereosite by Jonathan Ross, UK

Alfred Silvester’s 1857 series of stere­oviews enti­tled ‘Dec­la­ra­tion of Love’ begins with a scene depict­ing a young woman seat­ed at the piano in a smart­ly dec­o­rat­ed room with elab­o­rate wall­pa­per and plas­ter­work and what appears to be a fit­ted car­pet, as opposed to the rugs on a wood­en floor that you see in many Vic­to­ri­an inte­ri­ors. The young woman is wear­ing an off-the-shoul­der lacy top with a corset­ed waist, a full skirt and crino­line. A young man is stand­ing close beside her, lean­ing over to turn the pages of her music. The door is open to the next room where a fam­i­ly can be seen sit­ting around a table, chat­ting and play­ing cards, while a lit­tle girl in her best par­ty dress is peep­ing round the door, lis­ten­ing to the music and per­haps hop­ing to see what her sis­ter and the young man are up to. It is a scene typ­i­cal of the ‘Evenings at Home’ style also favoured by Silvester’s rival James Elliott, and the ‘Evening Music’ of the Gaudin Broth­ers, offer­ing a glimpse into the lives of a pros­per­ous upper mid­dle class family.

A num­ber of vari­ants of the scene exist, with the cam­era in the same posi­tion but the fig­ures posi­tioned dif­fer­ent­ly, allow­ing one to read a sequence into the events though, as they are not num­bered, it is not clear whether that was inten­tion­al. I choose to place them as follows.

The young woman has fin­ished play­ing her music and has risen to her feet. The young man seizes the oppor­tu­ni­ty and kneels at her feet, tak­ing her hands in his and kiss­ing them fer­vent­ly, declar­ing his love. The lit­tle girl in the door­way is a witness.

In a vari­ant of the scene, the lit­tle girl is not present so I imag­ine that she has gone next door to tell Papa that her sis­ter has received a proposal.

In the final vari­ant of the scene I have found to date, the young man is on his feet, still hold­ing his beloved’s hand and look­ing implor­ing­ly in her direc­tion while she moves towards the next room. Her expres­sion is non­com­mit­tal but the lit­tle girl is smil­ing as are the peo­ple in the next room, so we trust that this dec­la­ra­tion of love will meet with approval all round.

As the old­er read­er knows, the male heart does not cease to beat faster in the pres­ence of a beau­ti­ful young woman as we pass mid­dle age, and Alfred Sil­vester used the same title ‘Dec­la­ra­tion of Love’ for anoth­er set up show­ing a young woman at the piano but this time accom­pa­nied by an old­er gen­tle­man with white hair, side whiskers and a reced­ing hair­line. He stands atten­tive­ly beside her as she plays, hold­ing her fan for her in one hand and a bou­quet of flow­ers in the other.

In a vari­ant of the scene, the young lady is stand­ing, hold­ing her fan and look­ing mod­est­ly away as the gen­tle­man prof­fers the bou­quet and declares his love for her. We do not know how she feels but her body lan­guage sug­gests that this pro­pos­al is not entire­ly welcome.

‘Dec­la­ra­tion of Love’ is also the title of the fol­low­ing stere­oview, pre­sum­ably pho­tographed on a sep­a­rate occa­sion, as while the gen­tle­man appears to be the same one, the young lady is dressed dif­fer­ent­ly. They have moved away from the piano, which can be seen in the back­ground, and the young lady is seat­ed on a high backed chair while the gen­tle­man kneels awk­ward­ly beside her, press­ing her hand to his lips. In this scene there is no doubt of her reac­tion as she turns away from him her hand raised to con­ceal the expres­sion of amused dis­be­lief. She clear­ly finds this pro­pos­al absurd and one hopes she has the kind­ness to let the old chap down light­ly (and per­haps help him to his feet).

Under his pseu­do­nym of ‘Phiz’, used at times of finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ty (he was a ser­i­al bank­rupt), Sil­vester issued a vari­ant of this scene enti­tled ‘May and Decem­ber’ in which the (seat­ed) old gen­tle­man can again be seen declar­ing his love for a young woman whose like­ly response can be seen on the face she hides behind a fan. The ‘skele­ton leaves’ we can see under a glass dome on the table beside him draw atten­tion to his decrepit con­di­tion while the title clear­ly express­es the dis­par­i­ty of age between one in the Spring of their life and the oth­er in its Win­ter. A more cru­el title might be “No Fool Like an Old Fool’.

So, to any of you con­sid­er­ing mak­ing a Dec­la­ra­tion of Love this St Valentine’s Day, may this be a cau­tion­ary tale and I hope that your beloved is a wor­thy, and suit­able, object of affection.

Jonathan Ross (London, UK)

Jonathan Ross began to take an inter­est in stereo pho­tog­ra­phy after a decade of work­ing with holog­ra­phy. He helped estab­lish the first Euro­pean gallery of holography,the short-lived The Holo­gram Place, in 1978 and his pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny SEE 3, was one of the pio­neers of embossed holog­ra­phy, now ubiq­ui­tous in the fields of secu­ri­ty print­ing and pack­ag­ing. He sold SEE 3 in 1990 and began col­lect­ing holog­ra­phy and oth­er 3D imag­ing tech­niques, doc­u­ment­ing his acqui­si­tions on the Jonathan Ross Holo­gram Col­lec­tion web­site. In 1998 he opened Gallery 286 in his Lon­don home on Earl’s Court Road and has had a con­tin­u­ous exhi­bi­tion pro­gramme of con­tem­po­rary art and holog­ra­phy since then in addi­tion to curat­ing exhi­bi­tions of holog­ra­phy inter­na­tion­al­ly.

Insta­gram-pro­file: jross286
Web­sites: www.gallery286.com, www.jrholocollection.com