Australian Photogrpahy – Freeman Brothers Sydney

Unidentified man, from collodion negative, Freeman Brothers Studio, 1871-1880, Powerhouse Museum, H8504-22

Over the last couple of months I have been working on a previously uncatalogued collection of large format, 50.8 cm x 44.5 cm, glass plate negatives donated to thePowerhouse Museum in 1969. The 28 collodion portraits were found in a chest in our stores at Castle Hill and have been identified as all being originally taken by the Freeman Borthers Studio here in Sydney. We are currently conserving and cataloguing the photographs but hope to be posting them onto flickr commons by the end of the year for researchers to use.

The Freeman Brother Studio lays claim to being the longest running studio in Australia. It was established as the ‘Freeman Brothers and Wheeler’ by William Freeman and his brother James in George Street in 1854; it was still running nearly 150 years later. James was the more experienced of the two having worked in Richard Beard’s gallery in Bath before coming to Australia and was certainly instrumental in the success with which they plied their trade in Sydney.[1] Continue reading

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Early Photographs of Sydney by William Hetzer

George St, Sydney, photo by William Hetzer, 1858-1863, original held by Powerhouse Museum

The first two photographic processes were the daguerreotype (which created a positive image on a silver plate) and the calotype (which created a paper negative). Both became commercially available in 1839 but ufortunately the small population, patent restrictions and uncertainty about their permanence limited photography’s use in Australia before the 1850s. 

The daguerreotype was certainly the more successful of the two processes, and was the one adopted by Australia’s first commercial photographer, George Baron Goodman, who arrived in 1842. The calotype on the other hand found more general use among gentlemen amateurs in England when its inventor William Henry Fox-Talbot relaxed his patents to allow non-commercial use of the process. As a result the process became more viable and one of the first commercial photographers to use the process in Australia was William Hetzer.  Continue reading

19th Century Photography – The Samoan War 1899

U.S. Marines with naval gun, Upolu, Samoa, 1899, published by Kerry and Co

Tradition in Samoa dictated that leadership of the islands was to be invested in a hereditary chief, but in the 1880s these claims to power were anything but certain. Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived in Samoa during this period of turmoil, commented that Europeans, used to a history of kings and queens, tended to leap to the conclusion that the office of high chief is absolute. In fact the office in Samoa was elective and held in many ways on condition of the holder’s behaviour and attendance to his many obligations. This confusion was to have ongoing ramifications in the late nineteenth century as European powers asserted their claims to land and political power across the three major islands of Samoa. Continue reading