Ada Lovelace Day: Doris Ophir Robinson (1901- 1973)


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A tribute to Doris Ophir Robinson, Professional Photographer, 1901-1973.
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.
Presented at Be2camp Oxon on 15 October 2013.
Find out more about Be2camp
Find out more about Ada Lovelace at Finding Ada

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  • This is Doris Robinson aged 21/2. She was only 19 when she took over her father’s photography business in 1920.
  • Here’s her father George Robinson, with his eldest two daughters. You can see he had a bit of a sense of humour.
  • George Robinson had set up the firm in Stowmarket, Suffolk in 1909 and had taken early pictures of parades and ceremonies in the Market Square and other landmarks. This is Empire Day in the Corn Exchange, a building that is now the John Peel Centre for the Performing Arts.
  • Still surviving in the archive are photographs of the aftermath of the 1871 explosion at Prentice’s Guncotton Factory in the town, which claimed 24 lives. Possibly taken by an aquaintance of his, George (who was born in 1873) had printed and mounted them up, and probably displayed them in his shop in Ipswich Street.
  • But George died in 1920, aged only 47 and leaving a wife and twelve children. Doris was the fifth but her older brothers weren’t interested and her older sisters were married. So she took on the business for her mother and became the breadwinner, later buying her mother out in 1935.
  • 1920 was about the time when Man Ray began taking photographs, and photographic technology was very different to today. 35mm film wasn’t introduced until 1925 and instead film was available in many sizes because prints were made by contact rather than enlargement.
  • This meant that Doris would have had several cameras of different sizes (with different sized roll film or sometimes plate) to make different sized prints. The single lens reflex camera wasn’t introduced until 1957.
  • The photography shop in Ipswich Street would have included a dark room, which was a place of chemical processes with a very definite risk of fire. Ironically, the celluloid used in photographic film and the guncotton which caused the Stowmarket explosion are both made from the same flammable compound, nitrocellulose.
  • During the first part of the 20th century photography was promoted as a hobby by companies like Eastman Kodak, who tempted wealthier Americans in 1918 with the idea of sending photographs of the family to soldiers fighting ‘over there’. But having your own camera was an expensive luxury and most families of moderate means could not afford.
  • Instead on special occasions like weddings and births, they would employ the services of a photographer like Doris, who photographed generations of Stowmarket families’ celebrations as the archive of her own family shows.
  • Amongst the pictures of her parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings and children are scores of prints of men and women, couples and babies, taken with a sensitive eye to detail.
  • Here on the left are Bob and Mabel who had to marry rather fast in 1927. So fast he didn’t have time to get his trousers to the right length. On the right are two of Doris’s studio photographs.
  • Doris eventually sold up the business in the late 1950s because the commute from the house in Dedham that she ran with paying guests became too much. By then she had served the people of Stowmarket for over 35 years.
  • The shop had been burned out twice in that time. It was also bombed in 1941 in a raid which destroyed the congregational chapel and smashed the shopfront of the neighbouring sweetshop which was run by her husband George Francis.
  • I remember George from my childhood as a frail old man with a wicked sense of humour. I had no idea at the time that he was a serial business owner like his wife, and was an early motor enthusiast.
  • In 2010 one of my distant cousins gave a rather special birthday party for his mother. He’d researched the family history of every one of her grandparent’s children, produced a book and invited all he could find to meet up for a presentation tea to hear the story.
  • The book included tales of young women who never married as most men of their generation had been lost in the first world war, young men who drove the first buses in Suffolk, and one young girl’s thwarted attempt to make a new life in Canada from where she was recovered by maiden aunts when her husband died.
  • At the end of an evening of black and white slides of hundreds of my relations he showed a cine film. The film was taken in 1932 and included scenes from a wedding where my aunt (now aged 86) was a toddler bridesmaid, and other scenes from a trip to the beach at Felixstowe.
  • Playing in the surf was the same aunt of mine and a young man, muscular, happy and full of life. This man was the same one who I remembered frail and old, though with a spark of humour he’d carried through from those early days in the thirties.
  • That man was my Grandfather George Francis, and the cine film was taken by my Grandmother, Doris Ophir Robinson, Professional Photographer.
  • Ada Lovelace Day: Doris Ophir Robinson (1901- 1973)

    1. 1. Doris Ophir Robinson (1901- 1973) Doris by George Robinson c 1903
    2. 2. George Robinson c 1901
    3. 3. Empire Day by George Robinson c 1909
    4. 4.
    5. 5. Dimple, Cissy, Georgie, Billy, Doris, Gordon, Edna, Lewis, Eric, Jack, Don, Ralph by George Robinson c 1910
    6. 6. Man Ray Source Kiki de Montparnasse by Man Ray 1920
    7. 7. Source
    8. 8. Source source
    9. 9. Wedding by Doris Robinson c 1945
    10. 10. Don, Pauline, Jack
    11. 11. Wedding of Bob and Mabel 1927
    12. 12. Doris and Friends in a Charabanc, c 1920s photo by brother Jack
    13. 13. Husband George Francis with Annie Francis, Mabel, Cora and Friends c 1923
    14. 14. Philip Cunningham Me and Nathan
    15. 15. Cine Film Stills, 1932
    16. 16. Augusta Ada King (Lovelace)1815-1852 Doris Ophir Robinson 1901-1973 Photo: George Robinson 1920