You might have gathered that I’m a history nut, especially when it comes to the history of our part of Southwest France and of the people who lived in our house. Using local archives, I have been able to find out some details about our predecessors here.
Something that eludes me so far is a photograph of our house or the people who lived here more than 50 years ago. We have to remember that country folk rarely had photographs taken. Few owned a camera, and engaging a professional photographer was expensive and reserved for occasions like marriages. The idea of photographing your house simply wouldn’t have occurred to them.
The ones below date from the late 1960s/early 1970s, just before the house was restored. These are the earliest I know of.
Following a rabbit warren through the internet recently, I discovered that our village boasted a very keen amateur photographer in the late 19th century. The discovery of his photographs is like something out of fiction.
In the 1990s, during the sale of a house in Limogne-en-Quercy (Lot), a photographic collection was discovered in the attic, comprising around 1,600 negatives on glass plates. After so many years in the attic, the plates were dusty, and some were in poor condition.
The local historical society stepped in and saved the plates from potential destruction. Finally, in 2021 they were donated to the Archives Départementales de Tarn-et-Garonne, where they are currently undergoing cleaning, conservation and cataloguing.
This collection was the surviving work of Paul Faur (1860-1912). He was born in Caylus and became the village notaire. He was fascinated by photography, a hobby he pursued between about 1880 and 1910. Given how complex the photographic process was, Faur’s hobby must have been an obsession, judging by the number of images he made. You wonder when he found the time to do his notarial work.
I came across Faur originally when I found an online exhibition of his work dating from 2003. The photos are classified into “Portraits”, “Les gestes du travail” and “L’imaginaire des lieux“. Within each category, click on the pointing hand at the bottom and then click on the gallery of photos to enlarge it. I am unable to reproduce the photos here for copyright reasons.
I was excited to see an image of a house that looks very similar to one that belongs to friends. I haven’t yet been able to verify this. Alas, no pictures of our own house are included, but the selection is only a very small part of the whole collection.
I found out more about Faur from this article (in French). It reproduces some of his photos, including self-portraits, in a larger format than the exhibition. You’ll find them in the section between paragraphs 30 and 37.
Rural subject matter
Faur enjoyed the artistic side of photography, posing his subjects in both rural and village settings, often in the open air. But his work is particularly valuable because it is a rare and comprehensive record of the rural life of the times.
In addition to set-piece family groupings and slightly fanciful pictures of children with kittens and so forth, Faur captured working people carrying out their métiers. You see the clothes they wore, the tools they used, the environments in which they worked.
Farms were mainly dispersed smallholdings, the crops produced by families for their own consumption. Agriculture was largely a solitary occupation, sometimes supplemented by activities such as plaiting tresses for hat-making. Faur recorded these activities.
In the late 19th century, our village had around 4,500 inhabitants. It had an important livestock fair and many shops, cafes and restaurants. Faur systematically recorded the work of artisans that supported the life of a reasonable-sized rural community: blacksmiths, wheelwrights, clog makers, tinsmiths, tanners, knife grinders and many others. All of these have disappeared.
Unaccustomed to being photographed, some of Faur’s subjects seem self-conscious and awkward. However, if the notaire, a village notable, wanted to photograph you, you didn’t refuse.
In fact, Paul Faur was not the only amateur photographer in Caylus at the time. Léopold Mathet was the village pharmacist between 1875 and 1899, when he moved to Montauban. Mathet was particularly interested in colour photography and took many images of local landscapes and architecture. The two men would certainly have known each other.
It’s not entirely clear how Faur’s collection ended up in an attic in Limogne, although he was friendly with the family who once lived there, also notaires. Thankfully, the plates were not thrown out as junk when the house was sold.
No doubt I will have to wait some time for the Faur collection to be catalogued and digitised. I am hoping against hope that I might one day see an image of our house, or at least of a recognisable building or setting in the immediate area.
You might also like these posts
Copyright © Life on La Lune 2022. All rights reserved.