The Search for Edward Bragg
If you’ve visited Portscatho’s Harbour Club in recent years you may have noticed a pair of large canvas prints at the far end of the bar – a shipwreck crew pose outside a house on The Lugger and fishermen display a thresher shark in the harbour. They were both taken by a photographer I’ve been researching for years…
I first came across the work of photographer and postcard publisher Edward Bragg sometime back in the mid 1980’s. A photographer myself, early for a shoot and idling around a Charing Cross antique market I picked up some postcard views of the Cornish village where I grew up.
My family has lived in Portscatho for generations giving me a real sense of place and a passion for local history. These photo-cards by Bragg, compared to other photographers and publishers, stood out that proverbial mile and appeared to be the nearest I’d get to a time-machine, real windows in time and I marvelled at their clarity.
Why haven’t we heard of this photographer? Well, he’s just one more casualty of The First World War, gassed in the trenches and pretty much forgotten. I’m on a mission to get him the recognition he deserves almost 100 years after his working life came to a tragic end.
20-odd years down the line I’ve amassed and recorded a large amount of this photographer’s work and scribbled down every fact about him that I’ve come across. I showed the work of Edward Bragg, lecturing occasionally and finding audiences gripped by his images and fascinated
by the mystery surrounding the man himself. Until recently I had no idea what he actually looked like and would usually finish a talk with a high-resolution scan of a silver trophy, photographed by Bragg, in which a tripod can be clearly seen in the reflection. Is that a blurry figure behind the tripod?
It really is astonishing how little personal information can be found, internet searches reveal next to nothing, he’s like a ghost. From his hand-printed photographs with ‘postcard backing’ (which survive in fairly large numbers) I’m trying to find my way into the mind of the man who must have been a familiar figure around our Roseland villages pre-war. Just occasionally a message from the photographer can be found scribbled on one of his own cards, just occasionally, but it’s all I have to go on.
It was only recently that I was able to put a face to the name.
I will be forever grateful to Linda Flynn from New Jersey in the U.S., Great-Granddaughter of Edward’s elder Brother, Henry, for making available a set of images including one of Edward himself.
Photographing his Sister Sarah at Southampton Dock, he appears to have stepped into frame alongside her, and his affectionate note on the reverse of this print reads ‘…two distinguished samples of the Bragg family….Bash and Ted…’ Bash it seems was Sarah’s nickname. I believe three of his siblings including Sarah to have been missionaries hence a visit to the dock from which they travelled to Africa.
The search continues and I do have leads this year. I can now see the face of the photographer; I have a few hand-written notes and a whole series of images. It seems he travelled from The Lake District, arriving in Redruth C.1900 before moving to Illogan. He eventually settled in Falmouth in1907 from where he was able to visit The Roseland by steamer.
He seems to have spent time in St.Mawes and regularly landed at Percuil from where he would have struck out for Portscatho. He records landscapes and seascapes, treks the cliffs, photographs St.Anthony, Trewince and Froe. He crosses from Portscatho to Porthcurnick (where he photographed the wreck of The Gustav in 1912), Curgurrell is another of his locations and his images of Pendower House struck by a whirlwind in 1908 are superb documentary pieces.
Through Roseland Online I’ll reveal my discoveries as they unfold, and show his images of our peninsula. He did work across Cornwall between Lands End and St.Austell so visit the website www.eabragg.co.uk to see his images of other areas. My aim is not to simply create an archive of Edward Bragg’s photography.
I’ve been looking at his studies with my own ‘photographic vision’, treading in his footsteps, visiting his locations, and attempting to re-create some of these images. I’m keen to observe the changes in our Cornish towns and scenery and am considering why some of the sites were chosen to shoot from, i.e. often quite inaccessible high ground.
On the website I’ll muse on what he might have seen around him on the day he decisively captured a scene 100 years ago. Look to left and right of the frame. Was the image captured on a sunny day? On the cliffs of The Lizard Peninsula did he hear the Skylark and smell the scent of gorse flowers? We’ll never know exactly, but, I feel my interpreting his images will bring us a little bit closer to the man himself.
Archive & print sales: www.philnicholls.com