top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Secrets of a photo enthusiast

I’ve always been fascinated by Lynn Heiden’s enthusiasm for collecting photographs (some would say, obsession!).



So much so, that it inspired me to introduce the idea into the latest Esme Quentin mystery, The Fear of Ravens. In the story, Esme and her friend Maddy begin a new venture to reunite Maddy's collection of old photographs, which she's accumulated over the years, to their rightful families.


This is exactly what Lynn does through her blog, Lynn’s Waffles – and with some success, too. When I had the idea of putting her concept into my story, she was kind enough to allow me to pick her brains on the subject.



With The Fear of Ravens now published, I thought readers might enjoy learning more about what Lynn does and how she got started. I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I began by asking her when she'd first got interested in old photographs.


Lynn:

I've always loved looking at old family photos and when we were at a car boot sale back in 2007 I came across a beautiful leather Victorian album with CdV [carte de visite - "calling cards"] and cabinet cards [photographs mounted on stiff pieces of cardboard] inside. I didn't even know what these were then. The seller wanted almost £90 for it but my husband haggled well and bought it for me, getting quite a discount. That was the start of my collection. Now I have a huge collection. My avatar is the hand-painted first page of that album.



How did things grow into what you do now, your blog, social media etc.?


Lynn:

I shared some photos of a very old cookbook that I owned on Twitter one day. I had joined in 2009 and a Twitter friend, author and genealogist Emma Jolly, suggested to me that I should share it and write a blog about it. So in January 2011, I wrote my first blog. I called myself Lynns Waffles as all I was doing was waffling on about things that interested me at the beginning. This led to me starting another Twitter account @LynnsWPics in May 2013 to share a photo every day from my collection. Now I also have a Facebook page and I'm on Instagram too, as well as writing blogs about my research into old photos.


I guessed she must have a huge collection of photos by now and wondered how many... and how did she store them?


She admitted it was into the thousands, including over 100 Victorian albums, many ambrotypes [glass negative placed against a dark background to create a positive image] and various other types too, though she said she’d never added them all up!


Lynn:

They are still not all scanned, but I'm getting through them! I store them in various ways, mostly in storage boxes of all sizes, I also have some postcard storage albums for my real photo postcards.


What are your most treasured photographs and why are they special?


Lynn:

I love all my old photos and now, as time has passed, I've learnt more about them. I have gradually acquired an example of most types of old photos, like tintypes [a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal] and opaltypes [a positive photographic image on milk glass] but my very special photo has to be a large portrait about two feet tall, in an exquisite gold edged frame.



The photo is encased in glass and is of a very lovely lady, though I have no idea who. But I call her Catherine and she is on the wall above my desk. I spotted her in an antique shop in Devon back in 2017 and just totally fell in love with her, although we know nothing about her, sadly. The seller had bought her in a job-lot at an auction.


What’s your most memorable success in reuniting photos to the family to whom they belonged?


Lynn:

One of my recent ones was on the last day of 2019. I woke to three emails from a very excited lady in California. She, her sister and her mum had been researching their family history together over Christmas and she had that evening come across my blog all about Mary Ansell – an actress who was the wife of famous author JM Barrie – and realised she was related to Mary.


I had found an amazing collection of old photos at a flea market, all relating to the Ansell family. My blog in July of 2019 was rather a long one as it had taken me several months to research the family.


During that time I had strangely become very attached to Mary and her family photos so it was a bittersweet moment for me when I posted them all off to California on the 7 January this year. But I know that the collection is, and will be, treasured and looked after for generations to come now.


The lady who had contacted me was related to Mary Ansell being a descendant of Mary's father's sister. This beautiful photo is a Cdv of Mary Ansell as a young woman, part of the collection.

Mary Ansell
 

Thank you so much, Lynn, for being a guest on the Bite-size blog today and for answering all my questions. I can totally understand why you love what you do – and why it's become so addictive!


If you’d like to browse Lynn’s photograph collection, you can do so at Lynn’s Waffles. You’ll also find useful information about dating old photos as well as more about Lynn and her mission. Perhaps you’ll recognise someone amongst her collection and can help reunite the photo with its family!


 


6 Comments


Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Aug 22, 2020

Sorry, Carolyn! Missed your last comment. Yes, there’s nothing so frustrating as photos with nothing on to say who they were. I do wonder what’ll become of our many digital images over time. We find we tend to more readily reach for the physical photo albums to browse than our digital “archives”. We used to create photo collages of our digi-pics and print them out to put in pocket folders but we’ve slipped behind lately. A timely reminder to stay focused!

Like

Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Aug 07, 2020

Wendy, I believe you are right. It did cost an awful lot, but photos seemed to have been quite important to our ancestors (whatever their social standing and wealth), so they treated the whole exercise with respect. Unlike today with the instant selfie and the digital throw away culture. However, so many of mine have nothing on them to say who the people are or where it was taken!

Like

Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Aug 07, 2020

Very pleased to introduce you to Lynn’s Waffles, Carolyn! I know what you mean about small photos. I’ve got at least one album full of them. It can be really difficult to make out the faces. I wonder if it was cheaper to have them processed as smaller prints and that’s why people went for it. Photography was probably quite expensive back then - well, it was even when I was younger! Until the prints came back from the chemist (or wherever) you never knew if you‘d spent your hard-earned cash on a good set of pictures or if you’d taken a load of duff shots! 😂

Like

Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Aug 07, 2020

Yes, Catherine’s frame is exquisite, isn’t it, Helen? I wonder if Lynn will ever discover who she was. Maybe one day, if the right person comes along...

Like

Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Aug 07, 2020

Fascinating! I have bookmarked Lynn's Waffles and am following! I now have all my family's old photos from beginning of 20th century (and some even before!) and am slowly going through them. Some of the prints are so small!

Like
bottom of page