On holiday in Anglesey earlier this year, we visited the charming town of Beaumaris. There's much to see including a splendid castle, the courthouse, and superb views across the Menai strait to the beauties of the North Wales scenery.
You can also visit the old gaol; and most interesting it turned out to be. On the walk round the gaol various cells and other rooms have been set up to illustrate life in the prison for inmates, staff, visitors and so on. From the history of Gandolfi's we know that in the 1920s they got a contract from the Home Office to produce cameras, which continued until after World War Two. For now, a quotation from a document by Fred Gandolfi should suffice:
In 1923 came a Contract to supply the Straits Settlements (Malay) with cameras for Police Prison Records. The order was for 12 cameras to take two pictures on a quarter plate each, with nine double book form plate-holders. This type of work led to supplying police cameras for use in the Irish Rebellion in 1925. In this case however the cameras were fitted with Thornton Pickard "Silent" roller blind shutters, since in many cases the camera was used through a hole in the wall to record the person unawares. Later came orders to supply the English, Scottish and Welsh prisons. Here the camera was larger to take three images on postcard (5.5 x 3.5 inches) fulllength, full face and profile. The difficulty with recording three images of different sizes was that the masking device had to be accurate without showing any margins in the divisions. In 1975 the Home Office ceased using wood cameras, having tried out all-metal roll-film apparatus. However some County Police continued to order our cameras but reverted to the original two-on quarterplate.
These Gandolfi cameras have of course all been phased out in working prisons today. From time to time examples show up on the used market, usually with labels stuck on to the sliding mask of the plateholder to remind the user what order to take the pictures in – always a fullface view, and either one or both profiles, all on one plate. What I have never seen before, though, is what confronted me when I entered a room in Beaumaris Gaol for the reception of prisoners. There in a corner was a Gandolfi prison camera, in a well used state, but more or less ready to go. The camera is mounted on a stout black Gandolfi-made wooden tripod, itself screwed to the floor. Opposite the camera is a wooden turntable, to which is (again permanently) fixed a wooden upright chair. Obviously the prisoner was sat on the chair, which fixed him or her in the right position and at the right distance. An assistant could then simply rotate the turntable carrying the prisoner so that the three (in this case) views could be taken. Whether this was a standard procedure I do not know. The chair and turntable could easily have been made locally for an enterprising prison photographer, or the whole setup may have been supplied by central authorities.
An occasional and irregular blog, mostly of photographic experimentation and photographic history.
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