Dave Tomkins Pays Tribute to His Grandfather via 'Grandpa's Photos'

2014-07-23

“Grandpa’s Photos” is exactly what it says on the title – vintage photographs taken by an Australian man named Stephen Clarke who frequently went on trips around the world. But make no mistake in concluding that it’s simply a showcase; Clarke’s grandson, Dave Tomkins, has also taken it upon himself to honor his late grandfather as a talented photographer. In this interview, Tomkins introduces him to us and shares the idea behind his personal project.

Grandpa when he invited the office of Prouds Jewelers around to his house for Christmas.

At his prime, Stephen Clarke often traveled overseas as part of his job as a jewelry buyer for Proud Jewelers. With his Voigtlander Bessamatic, Clarke took numerous remarkable photographs from his trips, which he would proudly share with his family through slide shows and then store in a box in a cupboard afterward. Despite having taken beautiful and well-composed shots, it became apparent that Clarke didn’t think too much of them, didn’t even fancy himself an actual photographer.

First photo: This was taken from the top of The Empire State Building in New York. Looking West-ish. Again, credit to people on Grandpa’s Photos for finding it. Second photo: This was taken in Zurich, Switzerland. Probably taken out of a cab driving over a short bridge called the Landesmuseum. The Bridge in the photo is called ‘Bahnhofbrücke.’ I had no idea where this was until putting up the site. Third photo: Not too sure where this photo is but the best guess on grandpas-photos.com is Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano, Italy. I’m hoping to find this one on my trip.

But his grandson, Dave Tomkins, who works as a creative in advertising, thought otherwise. Stumbling upon his grandfather’s slides while he helped clear out the latter’s house after being brought to a nursing home a few years back, Tomkins saw the makings of a great photographer.

First photo: Taken in the San Paulo area, Venice, Italy. It is now a Hard Rock Cafe. Second photo: The 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon, Portugal. At the time it may have been called Salazar’s Bridge. Third photo: Taken from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City.

Like any other grandchild in this situation, Tomkins was eager to learn the stories behind all those photographs straight from the person who took them. Although Clarke was glad to see his old photos and regarded them as something special, he couldn’t remember at the very least where any of them had been taken.

First photo: Pretty certain this is Florence, Italy thanks to multiple comments from people on grandpas-photos.com. Second photo: Taken outside the train station at Interlaken West in Switzerland. Third photo: Interlaken West train station in Switzerland.

Thus, Grandpa’s Photos was born. In a nutshell, it’s a website dedicated to 100 photographs that Clarke took, carefully and painstakingly handpicked by Tomkins himself among hundreds more. “I picked the ones that made me wish I’d taken them myself. Probably the best way to narrow it down, I guess,” he said. Tomkins also observed that his grandfather “seems to have [not only] a great eye but also a very keen sense of composition.” “Lots of parallel lines and a brilliant use of depth of field,” he added.

First photo: Found by a bunch of people on grandpas-phots.com as Bern, Switzerland. Second photo: This seems to be on a fishing trip that my Grandpa was on. Probably off the coast of Brisbane, Australia. Third photo: This is my Grandma, June Clarke on the beach. Probably in Brisbane, Australia. I cant work out what she’s reading. Such a great shot, typical of Australian life in summer.

Tomkins’ website actually works two ways: in addition to functioning as a virtual exhibition of sorts, it’s also proved to be an ingenious way to help identify the locations depicted in the photographs. Asked why he chose to rely on crowdsourcing information, he explained at length, “Being from Australia I don’t know the places in the photos. but I presumed the locations in the photos to other people are commonplace. Just as the Sydney Harbor Bridge is really easy for me to identify, I thought the landmarks in Grandpa’s Photos would be easy for others to do the same.”

First photo: Thanks to the people on grandpas-photos.com this is near an amusement park in Tibadabo, Barcelona, Spain. Second photo: This was taken outside the entrance to the Empire state building on 5th Ave. Looking South towards 33rd st. Third photo: Not sure where this was taken. Seems to be that Grandpa travelled down overland from Interlaken to northern Italy. It has been suggested that this is possibly The Piemont not far from the Alps.

Tomkins’ personal, heartfelt project has already reached many people across the globe. “The response and generosity of people online has been phenomenal,” he said," the emails I get daily are so detailed, so helpful, so thoughtful." As of this writing, Tomkins estimated that an astounding 90% of the locations had already been identified. Places include cities in Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, and Hong Kong.

One of Dave Tomkins’ personal favorites among his grandpa’s shots is this shot as it “is such a cool use of Grandpa’s legs.” “Some of the family ones are especially great to me but that’s because I know the people in the shots probably. Scenes of happy times. Family I know well in circumstances I’d never seen them before. Pretty special,” he elaborated.

Asked what his next move would be, Tomkins said that he plans to visit these places himself. “[To] retake the photos and generate some of my own stories as, unfortunately, Grandpa is no longer here to tell me about his.” In fact, at the time of this interview, Tomkins was already in London, preparing for this photographic adventure. “I have packed my apartment in New York down to two small bags (including three cameras).” One of these cameras is a secondhand Voigtlander Bessamatic – just like what his Grandpa used – which he got from eBay.

Grandpa helping me with my photography assignment when I was at University. Sitting in his boat in the garage.

In retrospect, Tomkins realized that his grandfathers’ slides have just been sitting inside that box in a cupboard while he visited him back in college. Tomkins only has fond recollections of his beloved Grandpa, the photographer: "He knew all about cameras, film, lighting, composition, etc. He used a handheld light meter, on the fly on his trips and the exposures we always perfect but he never said a word about it. Even when i went to visit him one time and made him pose for me when I had a photography assignment due.

“He never instructed or bragged. He always made you feel special, smart and important.”

All information, photographs, and captions in this article were provided to Lomography by Dave Tomkins. You may also visit the Grandpa’s Photos website and Facebook page to see all the photographs and the project’s progress. If you have a tip or two about the photographs’ locations, do let Dave know, too!

written by chooolss on 2014-07-23 #lifestyle #interview #grandpa-s-photos #stephen-clarke #dave-tomkins

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