An Edwardian magic lantern slide of a level crossing

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Magic lantern slides were produced by professional manufacturers for resale to the public and by amateur photographers for their own entertainment. Generally speaking, the former were taken with cameras with good quality lenses, so were sharp and clear. The latter, on the other had, were often nothing more than snapshots taken with cheap, mass-produced cameras and for every one hundred that have survived, typically ninety are poor quailty and boring, nine are quite interesting and one is a gem. Today’s slide is, in my view, the latter and is a delight. It has the lot ….. a steam locomotive, signal box, pedestrians, clarity, detail and it’s nostalgic because many of us can still remember waiting at a ‘proper’ level crossing for the train to pass.

There’s no caption on this slide but I’m told that it was taken in Petersfield in Hampshire. The date is probably around 1900, some forty years after the London and South West Railway (LSWR) built the line.

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It’s definitely a man thing to take photos of railways. I’m constantly amazed by the number of photographers (always men) who visit the my local heritage railway line to snap and film particular locomotives on particular days in particular weather conditions and I often wonder what they do with their 5,000th photo of the same location. It would be nice to think that of the millions of photos that must be taken each year in the UK of trains (modern and preserved), in a hundred years time, some of them will have the charm of this one. However, thinking about it, given that most photography is digital and, as such, ephemeral and that the few prints that are made will fade and then be thrown away by future generations, what ‘hard copy’ images will exist in 2117 and in what format?

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