Creative marketing at the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works

The photographs in the Lewis Album were taken by a technically skilled photographer, with a view to creating advertising materials for the firm. Indeed the photos were used in various Lewis items (see the Lewis ephemera section) and to produce a "lost" Lewis booklet in May 1906. Some were still being used in Lewis catalogues as late as 1912.

However close examination suggests that there's more to the photos than just technical excellence: the skills of the creative marketer are also well to the fore. What we see is, well, not exactly what we get.

Take, for example, the c1905 8 h.p. Rover cars that appear in photograph 07, photograph 19 and photograph 25 . Three cars? I think not. Looking closely, there was only one Rover car in residence at the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works when the photos were taken, but it has been moved around to star in the various photographs.

8 hp Rover car, c1905

In the action shot of the Rover being washed down, the workers are carefully posed so as not to obscure the line of the car: we get a wonderfully clear view of a handsome little car. Comparing this car with the one inside the Motor House (below) we find matching detail in the pinstriping, lamp brackets, mudguard stays, wheels, and even the non-standard binding on the steering wheel rim. The two photos show the same car.

8 hp Rover car, c1905

And even though the Rover is in the far background of the Molton St works photo, many of the same features can be identified. If there are differences, I can't find them. Except, perhaps, that the car now has a malfunction that requires a quick look under the bonnet?

8 hp Rover car, c1905

The re-locatable Rover is not the only vehicle to appear in more than one of the album photographs. Indeed most of the cars appear in at least two photographs, usually in different locations. There must have been a lot of car shuffling going on that day. Even the motorcycles were in on the game: for example a Lewis Minerva motor cycle, identifiable by a non-standard chainwheel, can be seen both in the Molton St workshop in photograph 04 and in the Gawler Place showroom in photograph 06.

With equal skill space is exchanged for clutter: the open space in the machine shop at Molton Street in photograph 23 contrasts with the vehicular clutter of the same area showed packed with cars in photograph 05. Altogether, the technical skill displayed in the photography is matched by the skills shown in staging the compositions. I wonder if the photographer was responsible for both aspects of the shoot?

So beware: even before the days of Photo Shop, the camera did lie...perhaps just a little.

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