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.
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.?
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!
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?
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?
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.
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!