The History of Photography in Perth

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.

1853ssevansIt 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.

queenvicOne 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.
stereoscopeStone 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. Inixonmerrileesn 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.

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22 thoughts on “The History of Photography in Perth

  1. Teresa says:

    Hi Shelly,
    Is your book on pre-1920 WA photography already published? If so, would you mind providing me with the exact editorial info and details where I can buy it online, please?
    With many thanks

      • Teresa says:

        Thank you Shelley for your prompt response.
        Yes, I have consulted your other blog already. That’s what got me interested in your book! I always prefer to quote a book to a blog for academic or essay citations.
        I hope you find the funds to publish it! Have you checked with the Fremantle Press? I would say that, a priori, they would be interested in something like your work, which is of interest for the general public.
        I am one of those people who are not on Facebook, nor intend to rejoin. However, I would be delighted if you posted a publication note in this or the other blog. I would certainly buy it.
        Best wishes. Teresa

  2. Christine Chamberlain says:

    Hi Shelley,
    My grandfather – Arthur Fielding, owned Ruskin studios and was a photographer in Fremantle and Perth. I wonder if you are going to put him in your book. I would be interested in getting a copy when it is finished. I have quite a lot of old photos which are difficult to date – found one on your post for CM Nixon – every little bit helps
    Chris Chamberlain

    • Hi Chris,
      The book is basically just old photos of Perth, the intro just gives a short overview of some of the pioneer photographers in Perth, but I have been thinking about doing a website listing all the early photographers in WA, so I’ll be in touch when I get around to doing that! You must have some amazing photos with your grandfather being one of the popular photographers at the time.
      There’s a lot of clues to be found in photos to help date them. If you need any help, just let me know.

      Cheers
      Shelley

    • John Gabrielson says:

      Chris, I have an old family photo that is stamped “Ruskin PERTH” in the lower right corner. “Ruskin” is in script; “PERTH” in block letters. Any chance you could estimate the time the picture was taken? My guess is approx 1905.
      John

    • Bernadette Saberton says:

      Hi Chris Chamberlain, my great-uncle passed and he had quite a few early century (possibly prior to that even) portrait photographs. Two are from Ruskin. Unfortunately I don’t have dates or names and am trying to find out who they are. Are you aware of any catelogues or historic records from the studio. I can email you copies of the photos if you like? Thanks and regards Bernadette

  3. Veronica Treen says:

    Hi Shelly,

    Just wondering if you can please have a look at a Nixon & Merrilees photo for me. Based on what you have written about them I’m dating the photo between 1892-1901. I’m sure I read somewhere that Nixon carried on later and may have still used some of the card with Nixon & Merrilees printed on it leftover from when they were trading together. The red printing is a different font on my photo to your one above.

    regards
    Veronica Treen

    • Hi Veronica,
      It’s possible Nixon used the duo’s cards for a bit until they ran out, but it’d probably only add a year to the dates. After that he had C.M. Nixon, Fremantle & Northam, on the cards.
      I do have another red type N&M photo with a different font.
      Emmilene Burke (nee Riley) and husband &441
      This photo I believe was taken between 1892-1899, leaning towards the earlier as she was married in 1892 and looks quite young in the photo compared to a photo taken in 1900.
      Hope that helps! 🙂

      • Veronica Treen says:

        Thanks so much for your response. I can’t put a copy of my photo in the comment for you to see but if you have time I’d love to email it to you. My red writing is different again to yours with the N and M being very ornate. I maintain my photo is not the person that is stated because of the dates this photographer was operating. I also have another photo supposedly of the same couple and I just can’t see it. It’s very frustrating as no one else sees what I see.

        Regards, Veronica

  4. Hi Shelley, I’m interested in a 19th century Perth photographer named James Manning Jnr. Actually his father. Manning Jnr married one of the McKail sisters from Albany, which is where my interest stems from.The name James Manning resonates along the South Coast of W.A. because of a long walk of extraordinary survival made from Cape Arid to Albany in 1836 by two young men, one of them named James Manning. As far as I can make out, it cannot be James Manning the photographer who made that walk, but possibly his father. Anyway, just wondering if you might have made contact with any family members who have researched the history of the Photographer James Manning’s family? They may know something..

    Best wishes,

    Ciaran Lynch

    • Hi Ciaran, I haven’t looked into the family history of the family but I do know the photographers father was quite highly regarded in Perth society so there should be plenty of info on him out there. Have you tried Trove.nla.gov.au or the WA State Records Office? The Battye Library at the WA State Library may also have some info – they have a large family history section there and usually receive a copy of any family history books if someone from the family makes one.
      Hope that helps!

  5. Christie says:

    Hi Shelley, I found what looks like a vintage postcard with a photo on the front with ‘Nixon Fremantle’embossed in the bottom right corner, and the Union Postale Universelle Mark on the back. Am trying to establish whether this is a recent ‘vintage style’ postcard or someone’s lost ‘actual vintage’ piece that I should find the owner for. Can you shed some light? Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Christie, if it has Nixon on the front then it’s an actual photo print from a studio shoot in Fremantle, approx after 1903. Once someone had their photo taken at the studio they would usually get a number of copies, with the post card marks on the back to send out to friends and family. These were usually the cheapest prints to buy, as opposed to a cabinet card (larger and mounted on thick card).
      Nixon stayed around Fremantle until the 1930’s, but you could probably date it better going by the fashion in the photo.
      Hope that helps 🙂

  6. Veronica Treen says:

    Hi, Heave just been searching for Stephen Montague Stout online and came across this post. Do you have much information about Stout?

    • Hi Veronica,
      Stephen (born 1831, died 1886) was convicted of forgery in England in 1856 and sentenced to 14yrs transportation. On board the ship he edited a little weekly paper called ‘Life Boat’, and also gave lectures.
      He was granted a ticket of leave the year after his arrival and went to teach in Australind.
      Stephen worked out of Henry St, Fremantle (opp the Castle Hotel) and later High St in 1863 and in 1868 he moved to Australind to get married.
      In 1872 he worked from Hay Street in Perth.
      Once he received his conditional conditional pardon he operated a boys boarding school (about 25 boys) in High st, Fremantle around 1861-63, for which he was commended for by prominent local businessmen Lionel Samson & John Bateman. He also gave public lectures. In 1861 he gave a lecture on the ‘discovery of gold’ in Northam.
      He charged 7/6d for three CDV’s portraits and also sold hand) coloured photographs on glass. From Fremantle he would also head out to country towns like Bunbury and Guildford for commission work.
      He later established the Perth Academy on St George’s Tce and for a short time owned the Express newspaper, printed in Perth in 1872. By 1880 he was caught up in the Geraldton embezzlement scandal, after moving there in 1878.
      A 1884 directory lists him as a journalist in Fremantle, but it was up in Perth in 1886 that he dropped dead while walking past the hospital.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Shelley, I am a Perth based professional photographer and was wondering if you have yet finished/published your book on photography in Perth.
    Kind Regards
    David Todd
    08 9306 4048

    • Hi David,
      My first book is out at Thingz and a couple of bookstores, but the book this article will be in, which just focuses on pre 1920’s photo of Perth, should be out around end of year or next May 🙂

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