To tell the history of Perth photography involves a little history about the art of photography itself. The thought of capturing an image had been around for a few hundred years, with even a fictional tale detailing an accurate developing process in the late 1700’s. But the 1820’s was the pivitol point when photography as we know it came into crude existence through Frenchman, Nicéphore Niépce. It was his associate Louis Daguerre who later used a polished silver plate covered with silver iodide and exposed it to light through a camera lens to invent the Daguerreotype process, that was the first to be commercially introduced in 1839.
It took 7 years for the first known ‘Daguerreotype Artist’ to visit Western Australia, when Robert Hall visited Perth, staying for a few days at Mrs Leeder’s Hotel. He charged 1 Guinea for a photo with a frame or £1/ 5s for a photo in a pressed tin, ‘Morocco’ casket, thus restricting his patronage to only the most wealthy colonialists. Unfortunately none of his captures have survived.
Being a remote outpost on the other side of a busier east coast hindered the amount of photographers who visited Perth and it wasn’t until the 1850’s that permanent studios started to pop up. New Yorker, Samuel Scrivener Evans appears to be the first in 1853 when he opened a Daguerreotype Gallery at the Castle Hotel in Fremantle before later moving to Perth. None of Evans’ photos appear to have survived either.
Evans was followed in November 1857 by the Duryea Brothers of Adelaide, working from St George’s Terrace and later Hay Street, charging 10s/6d per sitting and Frederick Herbert who set up shop in Howick Street, Perth.
They were quickly followed in August 1858 by a Mr Curtis setting up business from his home at Bazaar Terrace, Perth.
By the late 1850’s the daguerreotype was starting to wane in popularity as new methods of photography were invented, like the glass plated Ambrotype and later tin-type photos. But the albumen printing method, which used egg whites to bind photographic chemicals to paper, really changed things. This started a photographic revolution, allowing multiple copies to be made and sent to the masses on thick card which became known as carte de visite’s (CDV’s). Once Napoleon III’s photo was used in this fashion in 1859, they became an overnight success, leading to ‘cardomania’ which spread throughout Europe and across the world. The cards were traded among friends and family and collections of famous people’s carte de visite’s were displayed in parlour rooms throughout the Victorian era.
One Perth photography studio, The Hart Co., was offering CDV’s of Queen Victoria, presumably a memorabilia piece upon her passing in 1901.
Some of the more notable photographers who came upon the scene in the next few decades included the ex-convict Stephen Montague Stout who opened a studio in Henry Street, Fremantle in 1864, producing some of the earliest photos of the area. He later moved to Australind before briefly opening a studio in Perth in 1872. During his time in the colony, Stout was intermittently involved in teaching and in 1878 he headed to Geraldton to teach where he became involved in an embezzlement scandal. Coincidentally, his crime for being sent to Australia as a convict had been forgery.
Alfred Hawes Stone came out to the Swan River colony just a few months after Stirling had arrived in 1829. He took up photography in his later years after three decades as a prominent colony lawyer and Supreme Court Registrar. Many of his photos have survived and present a clear window into Perth in the 1860’s. It is also possible that Stone is responsible for the spectacular photo of the Pensioner Guards outside their barracks.
Stone was also a fan of the Stereoscope, which was the 3D photograph of the day and required the photographer to take 2 photos of the same scene side by side, to depict left and right eye views. The two photos would then be printed on card which was then inserted into a viewer and resulted in a singular 3D image when looked into.
Fremantle briefly even had a female photographer, which was nearly unheard of in a commercial sense at that time. Jane Manning had arrived in WA with her parents and brother aboard the convict ship Scindian in 1850 at just 1 year old. Her father James Manning was an engineer and helped design many of the colony’s convict built buildings including the Perth Town Hall. Jane and her brother James Jnr both had a keen interest in photography. James Jnr had dabbled for a few years as an amateur but finally opened a photographic business in Howick St, Perth in March 1867. Jane decided that she too would open a studio and on 31 March 1868 she opened the Yeldham Gallery in Cantonment St, Fremantle. Foreseeing the confusion in both siblings using the Manning name she decided on using her mothers maiden name, Yeldham.
James Jnr soon went into partnership with a Mr Knight and not long after decided to head bush to spread his services to more rural areas. Jane then moved to Perth to carry on the Manning & Knight business.
The partnership later dissolved, James Jnr headed to Europe to learn the latest developments in photography, while Jane briefly reopened the Yeldham Gallery in Fremantle. On James Jnr’s return in 1874 he reopened his Perth studio before moving to King William St in 1876 and later William Street. He went on to become one of Perth’s most prominent photographers. In 1891 James Manning Jnr sold his business to Hemus & Hall, wishing to devote himself more to photographing landscapes throughout the state.
Over the next few decades many photographic studios opened in Perth and Fremantle, some lasted, some did not. Many would take regional tours opening up their services to the country folk with the West Australian bush providing an ample backdrop to their pop-up studios. In 1892, Charles Millington Nixon came over from the eastern states and opened a shop across from the Fremantle Town Hall on William Street with his business partner Henry Merrilees. They operated as Nixon & Merrilees for nearly a decade, becoming the most popular studio in Fremantle, often using innovative marketing techniques (see advertisement on right). Charles Nixon continued on under his own name after 1901 in Fremantle and Northam and operated all the way through till 1934.
One of the more famous photographers in the early 20th Century was Abraham Orloff, better known by his nickname, Izzy. Izzy was a Russian Jew who arrived in WA in 1910. He later went back to Europe after WWI to study photography in Paris before returning to Perth where he worked at the popular Dease Studio in Barrack Street before opening his own studio, La Tosca in North Fremantle in 1922 and later in High Street, Fremantle. Izzy would have blended in nicely with todays technology, being an obvious fan of capturing everyday moments and social gatherings, often selling his photos to the Sunday Times.
For more information on the history of Perth photographers, check out my blog dedicated to the history of WA photography.