Edward Linley Sambourne recorded new freedoms using hidden cameras in the early 1900s. While he is best known for the body of cartoons and drawings he created for Punch, the satirical English magazine, his candid photos offer a rare glimpse of revolutionary changes in fashion and behavior of ordinary women on the street.
Queen Victoria died January 22, 1901 and Edward VII ascended the throne. Squeezed between two centuries, the world was in upheaval. Some people had been pushing the rigid boundaries of propriety in the 1890s as floor-sweeping skirts, petticoats, high necks and corsets loosened in favor of comfort and range of motion. By the Edwardian era, hems inched up, necklines dropped, sleeves grew shorter and stockings disappeared along with swim hats.
Women were engaging in active lifestyles, walking solo on the streets with a new spring in their steps and noses in their books as evidenced in these candid photos taken by Edward Linley Sambourne.
Life Before Cameras
Born in London Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) attended the City of London School (1855-56) and Chester Training College School (1857-60). As an apprentice to marine engineers in Greenwich, he was headed for a life as a draughtsman. But with one year of formal training at the National Art Training School in 1860, he developed a unique style and passion for drawing caricatures.
According to Chris Beetles Gallery:
“When Mark Lemon, editor of Punch, saw one of his sketches in 1867, he was engaged to work for the periodical, and four years later joined the staff.”
Prior to his work in photography, Edward Linley often posed his children and friends as well as professional models for caricatures and cartoons. He also relied on his large collection of images from magazines, newspapers and postcards.
Life After Cameras Became Affordable
By the 1880s, technological advances made photography affordable.
According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries (RBKC)
“In 1883 he went a step further and purchased a camera, which revolutionized the way he produced his designs.”
For his caricatures Edward Linley often took photographs of key figures and combined them with posed photos. He used ordinary household items to stand in for necessary props like swords. He would then use the prints to guide his drawings.
“This often involved dressing up and posing in the backyard – with Sambourne’s family and the household servants recruited to play various roles. He would then develop these images and they would form the basis of the cartoon.”
He often printed cost-effective, blue-tinged cyanotypes.
Edward Linley Sambourne took tens of thousands of photographs in his lifetime. His body of work can be found in the archives of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.
“His wife Marion complained in her diary that photography had become as much an obsession as a hobby.”
He Captured Revolutionary Changes In Ordinary Lives
Eventually Edward Linley Sambourne joined the Camera Club and found his next obsession in street photography.
Although some say Sambourne was the first in this arena, Norwegian innovator Carl Størmer was possibly the first stalker to use a hidden camera. He was definitely the first paparazzo of Norway in the 1890s. At a time when photographs were typically stiffly- posed, no-smile affairs, there were some people pushing the envelope.
While Carl Stormer was using his spy camera in Norway, Edward Linley was capturing glimpses of life mostly on the streets of Chelsea. He also took secret photos while on vacation in Holland and Paris
Edward Linley had a celebrated career for nearly 40 years. Although mostly known for his work with Punch, Edward Linley Sambourne occasionally worked for other magazines. He also illustrated books including The Water Babies (1885) and Three Tales of Hans Andersen (1910).