Four Witches, ca. 1890

These images are taken from a half-plate, glass photo negative of ca. 1890. The seller informed me that this is one of three negatives he bought six years ago featuring the same four young women dressed as witches in the woods.

The first photo in this series he described as featuring thirteen women: four are dressed as witches—as here—and these are “sitting on the ground Indian-style with there heads on their hand”; the other nine women are standing behind the witches dressed very nicely with large hats. The woman in the middle is holding a very large and ornate parasol. Curiously, two of the women are holding teddy bears! The second photo in the series is similar to the one here, but two of the witches are sitting on the ground, one is stirring the pot and the other peeking around from behind a tree.

These descriptions, and the plate I have here, suggest a play of some description put on by a private school group. No doubt the woman in the middle holding a very large and ornate parasol is the teacher from the ladies school, the other twelve women being students. The nature of the play, the location of the school etc are all likely to remain a mystery, but I have other photos like this (see here for an indoor example I posted last year).

Unfortunately, the negative is over-exposed, the faces of the standing witches being almost entirely burnt out by the bright light behind them. The witch seated next to the cauldron is captured perfectly as is the cauldron itself, the torsos of the three standing witches and the tree-trunks in the foreground.

I have done what I can in photoshop with scans from this negative but this is one of those examples where a skilled developer can probably get better results in a darkroom than I can get on a computer. The print I have which came with this plate is excellent, but one day I will get a larger and better one. Meanwhile, these scans will have to do.

As you can see, I have given the whole plate, close-ups of the four witches, the cauldron, the face of the seated witch, and details of the fake snake wound into the corset-strings of one of the standing witches, and one set of shoes that feature fake buckles (no doubt, to make them look “ye olde”—and therefore witchy).

(For comparison, check out the snake wrapped around the hat here and the Ardern Holt costumes described here: is this not a “low level bodice” with “lizards in black velvet”?)

And can I say, I just love the high-neck shirts. Perhaps I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) too often as a child. (Sara wasn’t the only one writing poetry “all about Miranda”—or all about Sara for that matter!)

6 Responses to “Four Witches, ca. 1890”

  1. A really neat period piece. I also thought of the co relation between the serpent and the previous post. Loved that picture.

  2. I just like the general obscurity of this. The glass plates still surviving, then passing into your hands is a minor miracle itself. Then there’s the ‘who can say?’ mystery of the costumed women, and what they might be doing. The idea of a play or tableau seems reasonable to me as well.
    I also visualize the general fuss involved in exposing a bunch of glass plates in the early 1900’s…

  3. […] 8, 2010 par Maman louve  (photos tirées datant de 1890  tiré de CE blog […]

  4. Macbeth presentation? Shakespeare fun in the woods?

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