This photograph is a stunning example of the panoramic work of Robert Vere Scott, and a fascinating view of life and traffic in 1900s Melbourne.
But some of this traffic doesn’t belong.
To the far left of the image is a semi-transparent horse and cart that sits in shade but casts no shadow. But this is no ghost, it’s an example of pre-digital photo-manipulation.
Photo manipulation and image retouching have been used by photographers from the time photography became a commercial prospect, and by the 1900s a wide array of photo-manipulation techniques had been practised and perfected to allow photographers to create the image they desired.
To add this man to the photograph Scott would have used a process known as combination photography, which was a technique that involved combining multiple negatives to create a single image. Combination photography was commonly used by landscape photographers to combine a sky and a foreground, as early cameras could not easily photograph both at the same time. These early techniques were expanded upon by art photographers to create images that could not ordinarily be captured by photograph, or to add props, backgrounds or figures, such as this horse and cart, to unrelated photographs.
The horse and cart would have been cut from another negative and placed on top of the larger landscape negative during exposure, which is why the road can be seen through the cart. The cart casts no shadow because the shadow wasn’t cut from the original negative, and the shadow from that original negative would have been inconsistent with the larger landscape as the horse and cart is lit from behind, while the rest of the image is lit from the right. Newton’s rings, which are circular patterns that can be created when two translucent surfaces touch, can also be seen to the centre of the horse and cart where the two negatives are in contact with each other. The head of the horse and tail of the cart are also blurred where they curve away from the negative below them, preventing the sharp exposure displayed in the rest of the image. This blurring also tells us that the cut-out negative was placed on top of the landscape negative during the exposure process.
While this photo gives us a view of Melbourne at the turn of the century, the addition of this horse and cart can show us even more about the photographic techniques used at the time, and reminds us that nothing in a photograph should be taken at face value.
Unless it was just a ghost.
Pictorial Effect in Photography – Google Books
State Library Victoria – Robert Vere Scott’s photographic panoramas (slv.vic.gov.au)
Melbourne CLOCKS (onlymelbourne.com.au)
Newtons Rings | University College Cork (ucc.ie)