Graystone Bird

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Owen Graystone Bird (male; b. 1862, d. 1943) was a British professional photographer, active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some sources give his first name as William instead of Owen, however no available sources unambiguously list both Owen and William among his given names, and all sources agree on the prominent use of Graystone. The cause of confusion about the correct form of Bird's full name is unclear, but it does not seem to be a case of multiple photographers using the names "Graystone" and "Bird" in combination, contemporaneously.

He was a member of the 2nd-generation of a prominent family of pioneering photographers from the town of Bath, in the United Kingdom. His father, Frederic Charles Bird, a photographer and portrait painter active from the middle to late nineteenth century, had received a Royal Warrant of Appointment from the contemporary Prince of Wales, the future king Edward VII. The younger Bird would also receive this honour, although the limited records available are unclear about whether his patron, as Prince of Wales, was Edward VII or George V, or both.

Bird was a skilled and respected artist, the winner of numerous photography prizes, whose talent was internationally recognized during his professional lifetime. Posthumously however, he slipped into relative obscurity, when compared to other notable photographers of the period.

Aside from the simple passage of time, and the role of random-chance selection in the recognition of artistic talent, there appear to be at least 2 key reasons why Bird's work remains relatively unknown:

  • much of Bird's most notable work, created during a peak period of his career in the 1890s and very early 1900s, involved creating pictorialist-style photographic images for publication-and-use as magic lantern slides. This was, at the time, a popular form of entertainment in private homes and public shows. However, the development of moving pictures as a form of art and entertainment, beginning in the 1890s, would eclipse the popularity of magic-lantern shows in the early decades of the twentieth century. Also, the media format of images recorded on large-sized glass slides, for use with magic-lantern-type projectors was superseded by "film slides" (i.e., image-transparencies recorded on small pieces of thin, flexible film; made either from a form of cellulose, or from more advanced sheet-plastic materials), and more modern types of still-image projectors.
  • the building, at 38 Milsom St in Bath, which had housed the Bird family's studio-workshop for 73 years, and also contained the archives of their photographic work, was apparently destroyed in some catastrophic event in 1937 (details not specified in the available sources); Bird was still alive at the time, age 74-75. After the unspecified ' event' at 38, Milsom Street, Graystone set up his new studio at no 9, Sydney Place, Bath. By a curious coincidence no 38 Milsom Street is the home of HIGHGROVE : the current Prince Charles outlet for all things to do with his estates.

    Thus, by the middle of the twentieth century, the master copies of most of Bird's photographs had been destroyed, along with the related documentation; and among his surviving works, the most notable remaining were part of an obscure genre, stored in an obsolete and relatively fragile medium.

Owen Graystone Bird died in 1943, age 80-81. He had at least one child, a son, Charles Frederick Graystone Bird; also a photographer. His son, Bird's grandson, David Graystone Bird, is active in promoting awareness of the photographic work of his ancestors, through lectures and other activities.

The Keasbury-Gordon Photographic Archive, a commercial enterprise which specializes in early British photography, has a small collection of Graystone Bird photographs, and has produced a number of YouTube video documentaries about Bird and his work.

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