Cats definitely rule the internet – especially funny cats! Who doesn’t love seeing a funny photo of a cat scroll across their screen? Believe it or not, the love of funny cat photos is nothing new. A photographer named Harry Pointer introduced the funny cat genre of photography to the world in the late 1800’s. His photos are funny and incredibly charming.
All photos used in this post are in the public domain as they are more than 75 years old. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Harry Pointer’s Early Life
Harry Pointer was born on November 12, 1822, in Marcham, Berkshire, England. He had 5 brothers, one of which was born in the same year he was. The Pointers were a family of poor agricultural laborers.
Possibly in an attempt to escape the agricultural life, Harry Pointer and 4 of his brothers joined the armed forces. Pointer chose to enlist in an elite group known as the 1st Regiment of the Life Guards. It was the Life Guard’s duty to protect the Queen at her home in London. Before Pointer was even born, this elite regiment had been a part of the military group that led to a decisive victory against Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. However, Pointer was stationed in London and it is likely that he never experienced foreign war.
While Pointer was in the Life Guards he was introduced to an artist named Rosa Myra Drummond. Drummond was looking for a leg model for a painting of a roman soldier that she had been working on. Her brother, Julian, claimed that he knew a member of the Life Guards that would be perfect for her painting – Harry Pointer. Drummond agreed that Pointer’s legs were perfect for the part and even decided to use him as a model for other paintings she worked on. She also enlisted Pointer’s help in selling some of her paintings which weren’t selling as well as she would have hoped.
Despite the differences in their social class (Drummond was of a higher class than Pointer), it wasn’t long until the pair were hopelessly in love. They married on August 11, 1849. Harry Pointer continued his career with the Life Guards, over whom he had become an Instructor of Military Drill. Rosa Pointer also continued her career as a painter but struggled to sell any of her work. By 1851, the couple welcomed their first child, a boy, into the world. He was named Harry after his father. Only a year later they also had a daughter whom they named Myra after her mother. A third child named Julian arrived in 1855, but sadly, he would not live to see his third birthday.
The Love of Cat Photography
In 1855, Harry Pointer set up his photography studio at 15 Bloomsbury Place, Brighton, England. He started by taking portraits of people that were to be used on their cartes-de-visite. Cartes-de-visite were a very early version of a business card. A photo would be mounted onto a small card stock card to be handed out whenever someone visited another person’s home. Often there would be a basket placed near the door of homes to collect these cartes-de-visite and families would collect them and make scrapbooks with them. During the Victorian Era in England, these cartes-de-visite were in high demand, and thus, the photos were as well. People immediately took to the style of Harry Pointer’s photography.
In the late 1860’s, Pointer began photographing his pet cats. The first photos were of the cats simply resting or doing things that are quite natural to cats. By the 1870’s, Pointer’s cat photos began taking on a whole new life of their own. His series of photos, which became known as the “Brighton Cats,” featured cats posed in such a way that they were appearing to do human tasks. Pointer loved how the photos his cats made people laugh. He had short sayings to the cards like “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” to add a bit of charm. Needless to say, the Victorian people fell head-over-heels in love with the Brighton Cats. The cartes-de-visit that featured the cats were very hot sellers. He created a series of dog photos as well that were also popular. Pointer continued as a photographer for the rest of his life.
It is important to note that getting great photos of posed cats in the 1800’s was not an easy task. Those early cameras were big, awkward, and slow. It wasn’t uncommon that the subject of a photograph would have to sit perfectly still for 10 – 15 minutes to get a proper exposure. Any movement at all would result in a blurry photo. When photographing humans, life-sized doll stand-like contraptions (complete with a head clamp) would be used to hold the person in place. Harry Pointer had to train his cats to sit patiently in whatever pose they were placed in.
A Broken Heart
Harry Pointer was dealt a couple of very tragic blows in his later years. In 1876, his son, Harry Pointer Jr passed away at the age of 25 in a horrible accident. Harry Pointer Jr was riding on a train when he leaned out a window to close a door that had popped open. He was struck in the head by an object as the train entered a tunnel. He never regained consciousness.
Toward the end of 1888, Rosa Pointer passed away leaving Harry Pointer grief stricken. It wasn’t very long until Pointer developed pericarditis (a condition where the fibers around the heart become inflamed). He too passed away on January 4, 1889, in his home. A family friend said that she was certain Harry Pointer died “literally of grief of (Rosa’s) loss.”
Have you ever seen any of Harry Pointer’s Brighton Cats photos before?
Sources & Digging Deeper