Etheldreda Laing 1872-1960
Etheldreda Laing (née Winkfield) thought to have been the subject of the autochrome self-portrait above, was an accomplished artist who, following her marriage to the barrister Charles Laing in 1895, was also provided with the means to indulge in her love of photography.
In their marital home near Oxford – the imposing Bury Knowle House – Etheldreda had her own darkroom and, by 1908, was sufficiently versed in the art form to experiment with autochrome – an early version of colourised film first developed by the Lumiere brothers.
It was not an easy process to master, never mind considering the expense of the photographic plates, when four of them might well cost as much as a man’s weekly wage at the time. The photographer also needed to master using delicate filters which were dyed in red, green and violet-blue, and through which the light would then be shone, via the eye of the camera and onto the treated plate.
Much like Julia Margaret Cameron before – with it not being deemed appropriate for a decently married woman to travel around taking pictures of strangers - Etheldreda was to concentrate on her own home, gardens, and family as the subjects for her work. The results show beautiful photographs in which her daughters, Janet and Iris, were very often to be the stars; and they must have been very patient too, because autochrome exposures took twenty times longer to create than the usual black and white photographs.
Autochromes soon fell out of favour, but Etheldreda’s are still on show at the National Media Museum in Bradford in a collection which is entitled, The Dawn of Colour.