Sunday, May 24, 2009

R.S.Smythe respite

This past month I have over-Smythed myself. I have been going like a bull at a gate and have found his early work environment, a possible exterior sketch of his work place at Robson and Levey (in London beyond my grasp both in kilometres and pounds sterling) next to the Three Tuns pub and located Peel's Coffee house which registered internally as important and there, which indeed it was. I have all the addresses for Smythe's life in London (1841, 1851 census') until he left in 1855. My next move is to track down his brother will and obituary to see what can abstracted from them. There are three references in a British Library; two interviews with Old Bullfrog (his step grand daughter who recently passed away called his photo that when she was younger, having never met him.) and one obituary for Robson to which I have earlier alluded. (Smythe above right aged 18)

Then there is Elsasser whose image eludes me. I have seen a pencil labelled photo of him in an album and next week I am slated to see an album at the University of Melbourne which they tell me is wholly unidentified, each and every portrait. Elsasser spent sometime in England before coming out here at a progressive school in Nottingham. Who is Elsasser? Oh I should tell you...where are my journal manners?

Carl Gottlieb Elsasser was a German musician, composer of average but local note whose father was a School Teahcer and friend of Heldenmaier (whose life and work is quite amazing, centering around the education of children, both able and disabled and quite a revelation to all of us who think of Victorian education as all tyrants, barefeet and soot...which is mostly was). Elsasser was the singing teacher of Smythe's wife Amelia Elizabeth Bailey.

Elsasser was written about sometime ago by a vanishing act of an author named William Percival Nash (proprietor of Innisfallen Press, Heidelberg Heights. No longer Extant) whom, from the reactions I have catalogued had an as yet, non-descript and seemingly inharmonious relationship with Academic Institutions and 'types' which I can well understand. His book did not include from memory any image of Elsasser but one is out there and lack of recording these images is of great vexation to me as it should have been done many years ago. Some word based academics seem to view images as less important than text and while they will cite via footnote of citations (usually the size of small circus parades) any notations of images and their whereabouts, even if not published in thesis or in book form seem to relegated to the caboose along with the suitcases, hatboxes and sacks of mail. No buttoned and be-glassed travelling compartment for them . Shame.

Why is there no National Portrait Gallery publication such as was done by Dover many years ago? It's magnificent book, large enough to terrorize un unruly crowd and crammed full with over 1,000 famous American's in small photographs during the 19th century and before.

All of which is no surprise. People no longer know how to see, to look, or to farm from an image all the information that is there and so images serve only as tools to break up areas of text and provide mood, context, costume, effect or minimum of visual-ity (sorry to have fabricated another word but visibililty would not have done). From the small fuzzy photo I have seen of Elsasser I can see that his hairstyle is one he has kept since his early days for  it belongs to the 1840s, his cravat is very floral in a time when they simply were not and it's gathered together with a silver broad-ring. This man was a progressive and a real German Romantic. Both his face and regard can tell you things the text cannot. Despite being the most visual saturate culture that has ever been I suspect we are the most visually illiterate. Art is becoming noise.

Images can be read, interrogated and husbanded. 

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