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Based on text from the original book: Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988
Gael Newton, 1988 Australian National Gallery


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The impact of collodion photography

In Hobart, in December 1853, Douglas T. Kilburn, who had been one of the earliest daguerreotype photographers in Melbourne and Sydney, gave a lecture on the calotype process to the Royal Society of Tasmania. It was one of, if not the first, such photography lecture-demonstrations and was published in the Society's journal in January 1854. Previously, information on photography had been spread through journal or newspaper articles reporting European developments, or local studio advertisements.

Although it was delivered to a scientific body (the successor to Franklin's Tasmanian Society), Kilburn's demonstration was aimed at encouraging others to adopt photography as a hobby: 'an enthusiast myself in the pursuit of photography, I am anxiously desirous of leading others into the same delightful path'(1).

Kilburn referred to the new wet plate collodion process as well but he chose to demonstrate the older calotype which was more suited to amateurs as the operation was easier.

In a similar spirit of sharing the pleasures of photography, Mr E.H. (probably Elijah Hart (w.1857-1872)) wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 December 1854, with a recipe for a honey preservative to enable his 'brother photographers' to use the collodion process 'which had the disadvantage for outdoor work of having to coat and develop the plates on the spot at the time of exposure'.

It was not his recipe but one from the Photographic Society Journal. However 'as many of our amateurs not only do not see that journal, but do not even know that such a Society exists, I am induced, for their benefit, to request you to publish the formula'.

The following year the artist John Rae (1813—1900) gave two lectures at the Sydney School of Arts on the history of photography and the technical details of the daguerreotype, the talbotype, and collodion paper processes, The latter he recommended for amateurs, like himself, the former being best left to studio professionals, 'I am anxious to make some of you amateurs like myself; and ... I believe that the talbotype and collodion processes arc better suited for amateurs than Daguerreotype'(2).

Both lectures were published in very long extracts in the Sydney Morning Herald of 14 and 20 September, and prompted a reply with alternate formulas for talbotype processing from an 'Amateur'(3). Earlier, in May, the same newspaper had run a long article on photography which encouraged amateurs to take up collodion work, and which concluded with a suggestion directed at the secretary of the School of Arts to start a photographic society. This was the earliest such call for a society but none was formed at this time(4).

This accelerated movement towards specialised societies was widespread and it was also in these years that amateur painters formed associations. Conrad Martens lectured to the new Sydney Sketch Club in July 1856, and recommended the use of daguerreotypes as useful study aids for artists,(5) a view also echoed by the newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1855.

The Panorama

Despite the professional and amateur interest in the collodion process photographs on paper are rare before 1858(6).William Hetzer may have made views on paper in the early 1850’s as did Woodbury, George Perry (w.1855-1897) and Alexander Fox in Victoria. A number of visiting photographers from England and Scotland also made views on paper in the mid 1850s including Andrew MacGlashan (w.1854-1860s) in Melbourne and Edwin Haviland in Sydney(7). However, the first notable sale of views to the public seems to be the panorama of Hobart from the Domain of c.1855-1856.

Frederick Frith (1819-1871) was from an English family of miniature painters and silhouettists and worked as a painter in Melbourne prior to moving to Hobart in 1855. He exhibited oils and watercolours at the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition, and whether this exposure to photography influenced his decision to form a partnership with John Sharp (w.1855-1865) in Hobart in July 1855 is not known. Sharp had just bought a short-lived Calotype Gallery established by English photographer Walter Dickenson.

Sharp and Frith called their studio the Chromatype Gallery. This may have been a reference to the use of chromium salts but is more likely to be simply a reference to their colouring of albumen or salted paper prints.

While only a few dozen of these chromatype portraits survive,(8) and are of varying interest, their size and vitality must have been quite stunning as a demonstration of paper photography in comparison with the miniature scale of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.

By the end of 1855 Sharp and Frith must have been at work on views for commercial sale, as the Tasmanian Daily News of 18 January 1856 advertised their five-part panorama of Hobart from the Domain. Several copies survive,(9) the finest being a toned version on albumen paper at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. The Hobart panorama appears to be the earliest proper panorama and the real beginning of the collodiotype views trade of prints and albums sold to the public. However, other photographers were obviously gaining sufficient confidence and experience with paper printing from collodion negatives to begin exploiting the new market for views.

George Perry in Melbourne was selling collodiotype views in 1856. He made a five-part panorama from the gasometer behind Bateman's Hill. This was probably sold as a set although no advertisements have been found(10). Alexander Fox's six-part panorama of Bendigo made in 1856—1857 also appears to have been sold as a set.

The Sharp and Frith partnership finished in July 1856, both continuing work in separate studios. Sharp made chromatypes and later stereographs of the town and environs until c. 1860, and Frith specialised in large format views.

Mamoth Camera

On 16 July 1856, the Hobart newspaper recorded the importation of a mammoth plate camera for Frith's chromatype work(11). Smaller cameras were used for regional views. His brother Henry Frith (w.1857-1867) joined the business in 1857, and he did much of the travelling for the studio(12). By 1858 the mammoth camera had been used by Frederick for two panoramas of Hobart - one from the Domain and one from St Paul's Church. Both panoramas exist as separate prints in various collections(13).

>>>  footnotes

Amateurs and professionals flourish: 1858

A most extraordinary expansion of photography occurred around 1858, and appears both in professional studio work and the hitherto insubstantial class of amateurs. This growth was also seen in the appearance of large panoramas and collections of views sold as albums or sets of prints.

What is most interesting about this period is that the quickening of professional and amateur photography on paper is evident right across the country. By the mid 1860s most cities had panoramas and views for sale and at least a few gifted amateurs were at work on personal albums.


In Sydney, in March 1858, city views by William Blackwood were being praised by the Sydney Morning Herald as 'faultless', 'super-excellent' and the 'largest yet seen'(14). By July, his eleven-part, 180 degree panorama of Sydney Harbour taken from the roof of Government House on whole plates, was praised as 'superior to anything of the kind we have yet seen. Nothing dim or smoky appears ... no muddled trees - no hazy outlines - no hard sheets of glaring white for water'(15). This was the most sophisticated and extensive panorama yet produced in Australia. Frith's panorama from St David's was on larger plates but has not survived for proper comparison.

William Blackwood (1824-1897) was also a painter, although a minor one. Swedish by birth, he evidently worked with the calotype and daguerreotype prior to establishing a studio in William Street, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, in 1858.

If the Freeman Brothers were stung by this implied criticism of their earlier ten-part panorama, made in May 1858 from Observatory Hill,(16) their 1859 panorama from the North Shore, showing Fort Denison, ships at anchor and the city itself, proved they were equal to Blackwood(17).

Many panoramic views of considerable size had been made by topographical draughtsmen and painters, including John Rae using his camera obscura at Darlinghurst(18). However the detail, palpable solidity and atmosphere of these early photographic panoramas must have been exciting, even if lacking in the decorative finesse of early painted views.

Between March 1858 and December 1859 Blackwood published two albums, one of thirteen views of Sydney called Australian Scenery and another with nine views called City Banks(19). The latter contains some of the earliest and finest Australian architectural studies. Banks were then among the most substantial edifices in Australian cities, and many had been built as a result of the cash flow generated by the discovery of gold. Both of Blackwood's albums were improved by the addition of painted clouds and some of the Australian Scenery views were also turned into transparencies with cut-out street lights and moons, meant to be viewed as day-for-night illuminated scenes in a mega-lethoscope(20).

Blackwood introduced other novelties to Sydney, the carte-de-visite in 1859, which compared to the grand panoramas, was a lilliputian-sized albumen print on card. It was usually a portrait but many views exist and at least one tiny panorama of Sydney(21) was made on cdvs, as they are known. Despite his energetic entrepreneurial projects, Blackwood's output after 1859 is hardly known and he seems to have left photography after 1864.

In Tasmania the album set also appeared under Frith's initiative. On 12 March 1859 the Cornwall Chronicle in Launceston carried an advertisement for his bound and unbound album, Tasmania Illustrated. For five guineas purchasers could select from three to six views, including the panorama from St David's or choose unbound sets for one guinea each print. Individual prints of the panorama exist although no copy of the bound album is known.

William Hetzer played an important role in these years as an instructor of amateurs, a custom printer of their negatives, and a photographic supplier. In addition, in September 1858, he published by subscription the first sets of stereograph views of Sydney and environs, which he had extended by May 1859 to a total of sixty. Individual cards in good condition survive in considerable numbers although no complete set has yet been reassembled(22).

Hetzer took a portrait of amateur photographers Joseph Docker and his son Ernest around 1861. These and other casual stereo portraits of the period reveal the new informality that made the process so attractive to amateurs.

Stereoviews were by that date being sold in other cities, especially in Hobart by Samuel Clifford (1827-1890), but Hetzer's album of stereoviews was the most ambitious and well composed. The newspapers commented on their equality with imported stereographs, and noted the ease with which they could be posted(23). This portability and economy in printing compared to daguerreotypes appealed to amateurs and stereo cameras began to be taken on expeditions and excursions further afield.

The entrepreneurial spirit seems to have encouraged competition for new forms of photography. Edward Dalton (w.1855-1864) followed Hetzer in 1858 with a series of Sydney views on glass transmission stereos. Dalton was primarily a portrait painter and miniaturist, who coped with the advent of photography by joining the ranks as a daguerreotype and collodion photographer. He specialised in crayon portraits and 'crayographs' whereby he seems to have applied crayon to photographs on paper(24).

These productions in Sydney and Hobart were modest in comparison with the master work of early albums. On 13 August 1858 the Melbourne Argus reviewed the first in an album series of fifty photographs to be issued in ten parts by Richard Daintree (1832-1878) and Antoine Fauchery (1823-1861). Only three sets with slightly different numbers and combinations of images survive. In the variety of subject matter that covered landscape, portraits, architecture, mining scenes, and Aboriginals, their production was the most ambitious of the day(25).

The naturalism of the figure groups, sheer presence of the portraits, and beauty of the landscapes in the Sun Pictures of Victoria, as the album was called in the newspaper, was an experience unlike anything that had preceded it in Australian photography. It was the first major album series of scenic views, excluding panoramas, offered for sale.
Some of the photographs such as the posed tableaux of miners enacting a gold find, give an added dimension of narrative to the sense of surveying Victoria already covered by the suite of pictures. The impact of these show the effective pictorial use of the selective focus of a fast petzval lens as introduced in 1857 and not fully exploited until the 1880s when English photographer P.H. Emerson developed selective focus as an aesthetic policy(26).

Little is known about the mechanics of the partnership which had only been formed a few months before in May. Antoine Fauchery was a journalist, playwright and artist of some note in Paris where he mixed with bohemian circles. He was a friend of Nadar (1820-1910), one of the great pioneers of photography. In July 1852 Fauchery had sailed from Liverpool bound for Melbourne and the goldfields. Like most diggers he worked at a number of jobs and experienced the hardships of the goldfields, which are wittily described in his book Lettres D'un Mineur en Australie (1857)(27).

Fauchery returned to Paris in 1856 and seems to have taken up photography at this time, probably under instruction from Nadar. He sought patronage from the French Government to return to Australia, India and China and report on the interesting achievements of those countries as well as their geological and natural history features. His written impressions were to be illustrated with photographs.

Fauchery arrived back in Melbourne in November 1857 and established a studio in Collins Street. By early 1858 he was advertising views of Paris and he attempted portraits and views 'in large sizes, by quite a new process'. By March he had been awarded a gold medal for his paper photographs of Victorian subjects at the Victorian Industrial Society's exhibition(28).

Around May, Fauchery formed a partnership with Englishman Richard Daintree who had also returned to England from Australia in 1856. Daintree left Australia to take up professional training at the Royal School of Mines in London for his work as a geologist. He had been working for the Victorian Government mineralogical survey under Alfred Selwyn since 1854, having first emigrated in 1853 in search of a better climate and to try his luck on the goldfields. Two pioneers of photography, Dr John Percy and Robert Hunt taught at the School of Mines. Influenced perhaps by Selwyn's exhibition of daguerreotypes in 1854, Daintree studied photography during his stay in England.

On his return to Melbourne in August 1857, Daintree did not go back to geology but photography, joining Fauchery's studio sometime in 1858. It was a short-lived association as by January 1859 Daintree was working for Selwvn as a field surveyor for the Victorian Geological Survey in the Westernport area and had begun to apply photography to geological work.

The significance of the Sun Pictures album is in the quality, extent and general comprehensiveness (domestic and pastoral properties are absent) of the subject matter. Sun Pictures is also important for the manner of presentation of Aboriginal subjects. These range from men posed as proudly and dramatically as the miners with their newfound gold, to the Aboriginal farmers at Mount Franklin. Being shown close-up for the most part and with the backgrounds in soft-focus the Aboriginal people have a strong presence in the album. The situation of the Aboriginal people was not as untroubled as it appears in Sun Pictures, whether on the new reserves or for those few communities that still managed any kind of tribal lifestyle.

The aesthetic achievement of the album was clearly apparent to the reviewer in the Argus who commented on the five images in the first of the ten parts of the portfolio. It is believed that the latter was James Smith (1820-1910), an English journalist and arts reviewer who had arrived in Melbourne in 1854 and began publishing art criticism in the Argus and other Melbourne papers in 1856. Smith's art reviews show a taste for realistic but lively images, full of atmosphere, and the breadth of effect common to both picturesque and sublime aspects of nineteenth-century Romantic painting styles(29).

Smith evaluated the Sun Pictures purely in terms of art not topography. The picture of the Melbourne Savings Bank is described as 'so luminous, so rich in its highlights, and withal so deep in its shadows. A painter would never dare venture on such startling contrasts'. A view of Pyramid Rock was a disappointment to Smith because of the camera's inability to render sky and water. A landscape of Ferntree Gully was however a 'beautiful specimen of photographic art' whose detail proved the accuracy of a painting by Eugene Von Guérard (1811-1901) of the same subject executed in 1857. The album is distinctive for its introduction of landscapes that are not purely topographical records.

Photography had been praised as art since its debut in 1839. This has to be expected in an age when scientific progress was one of the most creative and exciting areas of endeavour and affected both philosophy and the arts with the new understanding of the world it showed. Accuracy and detail were highly valued and the works of natural history painters and topographical artists demonstrated how information and aesthetic pleasure could coexist.

What was new in Australian criticism in 1858 was a perception that photography was not made artistic by the technical expertise or the quality of the equipment, but by the selectivity and aesthetic talents of the photographer. As the Argus review confirmed:

The collection under notice are admirable specimens of this branch of the art, for art it is; as, irrespective of the skill requisite to manipulate successfully, the manipulators must also possess the artistic faculty in the choice of subjects, in the selection of the most picturesque point of view, and in discerning the most favourable aspects or accidental dispositions of light and shade.

The view trade developed quickly in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart from 1858 with albums and stereograph series being produced in addition to regular sales of loose prints for albums.

Large-scale photography, such as developed by professionals at the end of the I 850s, was as effectively beyond the reach of the amateurs as the daguerreotype process had been in the 1840s. The number of amateurs however, escalated and their work was no less pioneering, adding the important dimension of the domestic record, and landscape for its own sake, into picture making.

The largest concentration of amateurs was in Sydney, where by 1858 several informal groups existed, although the photographic society suggested by the Sydney Morning Herald in 1855 had not eventuated. William Hetzer assisted Joseph and Ernest Docker and others with their stereo and larger format work, and was a part of the social circle at Camden Park, the property of the Macarthur family at Windsor(30).

The Macarthur family albums at the Mitchell Library previously attributed to William Macarthur (1800-1882),(31) contain work by a number of photographers, including Hetzer's fine portraits of Lieutenant Arthur Onslow RN (1833-1882) and his future wife Elizabeth Macarthur. Onslow began photography around this time, and took photographs while on tours of duty aboard the HMS Isis, including some early Aboriginal portraits at King George's Sound. Another British naval officer friend of Onslow, Matthew Fortescue Moresby has work in the album. He was more talented than Onslow and made large photographs in South America, New Guinea, the New Hebrides and New Zealand(32).

William S. Jevons (1835-1882) and Robert Hunt (1830-1892) were assayers at the Royal Sydney Mint and often went on photographic excursions round Sydney together. Jevons returned to England in 1859 and later became famous as an economist.

Jevons principally used his photography as a means of communication with his family in England, showing them his study (a quite difficult feat in view of the long exposure), his dog Colony, friends and the local scenery. His delight in photography is expressed in the comment on a picture of himself under a banksia tree, 'My own self portrait done entirely by myself' (33).

Robert Hunt used his camera to record the evidence of a personal tragedy when he photographed the debris of the Dunbar floating in Sydney Harbour in 1857(34). His two sisters, his only family, were among those who perished within hours of reaching their new home. Hunt was still actively photographing in the 1880s making unusual panoramic cabinet cards(35). By then most of his early amateur associates had given up or passed away.

John Smith (1821-1885) was the most skilled and energetic of these early photographers. He was first Professor of Chemistry and Experimental Physics at Sydney University, and recorded the building of the University in stereographs from about 1857 (he may have made ambrotypes as well). He was a sociable character and a keen traveller and, like Jevons, recorded his life in Australia, including picnics at local beauty Spots(36).

Smith, Jevons, Hunt and Moresby exhibited their photographs at special conversazione evenings held in Sydney in December 1858 and December 1859 by the Philosophical Society to which they belonged(37). These were the earliest purely photographic exhibitions. They were preceded slightly by a conversazione at the Perth Mechanics Institute in September 1858 although the latter appears to have been more of a demonstration by George Pownall (w.1858-1862) the Anglican Dean of Perth(38).

One amateur who had begun work in Perth by the early 1860s was solicitor Alfred H. Stone (1801-1873) who had immigrated from England in 1829. A keen stereo photographer, Stone began work around 1859 and experimented with many of the available formulae for preservative solutions for taking wet plates further afield. Stone's scenes and portraits of his own family, as well as the documenting of the building of Government House in Perth are both charming and vital records of life in these years. Stone's albums contain one of Phillips’ photographs of Aboriginals, and it is likely that they learnt photography together(39).

One important amateur whose work was not shown at the Sydney Philosophical Society's conversazione was one of the most gifted of all, Louisa Elizabeth How (1821-1893). How was busy around Boxing Day in 1858 making portraits of her guests at her home Woodlands, at Kirribilli Point, Sydney. She had a fine sense of composition, and each portrait in her only surviving album of forty-eight salted paper prints, dated October 1857 to January 1859, is different. Little more is known of her introduction to photography or her work after 1859(40).

How was not the first woman photographer in Australia. William Hetzer's wife, Thekla, had assisted in their studio and there were a few professional studios that had been run by women. Women were also frequently employed as colourists and workers in studios(41).

In Tasmania, groups of amateurs were at work with paper photography in the late 1850s. Morton Allport (1830-1878) was a solicitor who came from an artistic family. His mother Mary Morton Allport (1806-1895) was a well-known Tasmanian painter and diarist. Allport had been instructed since childhood in painting and drawing by his mother but had little interest or ability in this area. After his marriage in 1856, Allport became active as a photographer. The photographs of his family have an immediacy usually not found till the snapshot-era amateurs of the 1880s and 1890S(42).

Allport's interests, like those of so many of the gentlemen amateurs of the time, were equally divided between science and art. He was a respected naturalist and authority on Tasmanian flora as well as an active promoter of local art exhibitions. Allport also belonged to the Amateur Photographic Association in England. In 1866 he received a fine album of members' photographs as a prize for his stereo work. Other examples of his work were printed in the London Stereoscopic Magazine in 1864(43).

In the early 1870s, just prior to his early death, Morton Allport made whole-plate landscapes of Hobart and environs. These seem infused with the deep interest and love of the natural features of Tasmania that sustained his scientific work. The detail is very fine and the tonality luminous, with a compositional fondness for repeated patterns and mirror images in water. In these late works topography has become poetry(44)

Morton Allport's friends, Charles (1824-1888) and Alfred Abbott (1838-1872), were also amateur photographers in the late 1850s. Charles and Alfred made excursions with John Sharp who had been a partner with Frederick Frith in the mid 1850s. They were all prolific stereo photographers. An album of their work, and that of other Hobart amateur and professional photographers is held by the Crowther Library in Hobart. Charles gave up photography in 1859, selling his camera to Morton Allport.

Amateur activities in Melbourne and Adelaide in the late 1850s are less distinct. One album attributed to J. Chester Jarvis begins in the late 1850s or early 1860s with a few salt paper or calotype prints and progresses through until the 1880s when the family moved to Italy(45).

In Adelaide, although no cohesive amateur circles existed as in Sydney and Hobart, an unknown collodion photographer was at work in 1857 who made a powerful set of portraits of the Murray River Aboriginals, now held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. One of these was the basis for an engraving in the Illustrated London News in 1857(46). Few early paper photographs are known from South Australia.

 footnotes   |  contents   next chapter  |  search-shades

List of illustrations used in the original publication (captions may be abbreviated):

P.23: John Smith: Lane Cove, 10th May 1864

P.24-25: John Sharp & Frederick Frith: Panorama Hobart from the Domain

P25: Frederick Frith: Dr Edward Swarbreck-Hall 1858

P.26: William Blackwood: Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney 1858 (from album)

P.27: William Hetzer: George St, CBC Bank, 1858

P.28: William Hetzer: Joseph and Ernest Docker, 1861

P.29: Richard Daintree & Antoine Fauchery: Group of Diggers, 1858 (Sun Pictures)

P.30: Richard Daintree & Antoine Fauchery: Aboriginal tribesmen, 1858 (Sun Pictures)

P.31: George Phillips: Group of Aborigines, c.1861

P.32: Louisa Elizabeth How: John Glen, 24 November, 1858

P.32: Morton Allport: Elizabeth Allport with her children c.1860

P.33: Morton Allport: Ferns c.1870

P.33: Alfred Abbott: Grass-trees, Grass-Tree Hill, Hobart 1861

P.34: Townsens Duryea, Panorama of Adelaide (detail) 1865

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