Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Windows Into the Past

The Daily Mail recently published a fascinating photo sampler here of retail shops in Shropshire during the Victorian era, which makes me think window-shopping was a lot more fun 125 years ago.

Photo collections like these can be gold mines for storytellers researching a particular era; there are hundreds of details to be gleaned from each image. I'm current world building a merchant's quarter in Toriana and want to get more of a Victorian feel for the names of my shops and what they advertise in their windows, and these pics are being immensely helpful, particularly with how the shops' signs should look and be worded:

Historic photos provide many excellent opportunities to engage your imagination. When you examine them, jot down notes on what attracts you (and what doesn't.) Imagine yourself in the picture and make a list of what you think your senses would detect. For example: what are the predominant colors you'd see, and what scents would be the strongest in this spot? If there are any people in the photo, make up a name for each, and (if it's not readily apparent) an occupation. If you want to use the person as a character, first see if you can envision more details about their history, family and daily life (I always test my vision of a photo-inspired character by writing a one-page bio.)

When using old photos to inspire your storytelling you should also digitally store or print out copies for further study and future reference; you may get more use out of them for other stories, too, especially when the images are highly-detailed like these.

Related link: Story Portraits


  1. I love looking at old photos and even though I'm not a writer I find them inspiring. I love the sign for Moore's hair dresser, particularly the part about the "fancy" repository. Haven't you always wanted a repository for your "fancy"? *smile* Oh I'm not being smutty - I mean all that girl stuff you collect but don't know where to put without it just being a mess. I wonder what they meant by fancy?

  2. I know the words "fancy repository" were sometimes added to the descriptions of other businesses and shops during that time period; I've seen them a couple of times. I'm thinking the same as you, that it's a catch-phrase for all the pretty little things ladies like.

  3. Those photos bring back fond memories of growing up in NYC as a child, window shopping was such a delightful pleasure well into my 20's, but as a child there was nothing more magical then the holiday window dressings on display.