Snapshot gallery exhibition – ‘In the picture’

The word ‘selfie’ was crowned word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford English Dictionary and is defined as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself’.[1] It’s tempting to think that this is a recent phenomenon; however we have been photographing ourselves from almost as soon as the camera was invented.

The selfie is just the latest form of the self-portrait and whether achieved through pencil, paint, sculpture or photography, the portrait has been an enduring presence throughout human history. A strict definition of a portrait is a depiction that only shows the face and shoulders. However, a portrait is often so much more as it can capture the personality and uniqueness of its subject. Our latest Snapshot Gallery exhibition, In the picture, explores the history and evolution of photography; in particular, the portrait and its introduction into Australian society, through showcasing photographs taken in the St George area from Georges River Council’s Local Studies Libraries collection.

The history of photography in Australia began in Sydney in 1841, when Captain Augustin Lucas offloaded the first camera, then known as a Daguerreotype.[2] It was reported in the Australasian Chronicle that the people of Sydney “will now have the opportunity of witnessing the effects of this very singular invention… [where] a correct view of any locality may be taken by any person in five minutes”.[3] People were able to visit an office located in Macquarie Place and view the item; whoever purchased it was guaranteed that they would “be fully instructed in the method of taking the views”.[4]

Before photography, people commissioned artists to have their portrait painted. However, having a portrait painted was inaccessible to many due to its expensive nature and it required the subject to have hours of free time to sit before the artist. This ensured that this medium was only accessible to those who were wealthy and of a high social status.[5]  This barrier helped popularise the miniature portrait which was smaller, cheaper and did not require as much detail or time to produce.[6] Photography provided an alternative to a painted portrait, and it is thought to have brought an end to the popularity of miniature portrait painting.

In the picture features stories and portraits that range from 1886 to 1934, many of whom are significant local residents such as Martha Battye, Mayoress of Kogarah 1934-1936, and those who were considered pioneers of the area such as Henry Kinsella and James Edward Smithson.

kinsella

Mr and Mrs H. Kinsella and their daughter Emily Susannah Kinsella, c. 1880s.  Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

Standing proudly at the centre of this photograph is Henry Kinsella, along with his daughter, Emily, and wife, Mary. The Kinsella family were considered pioneers of the area as their large estate and home were one of the district’s landmarks.[7] Emily attended Hurstville Public School when it was a small stone cottage opposite the Blue Post Inn. She would walk to school along Forest Road with her friends from Bexley which was reportedly “in those times little better than a cart track in the bush”. Emily, who married Walter John Preddey, whose father’s estate adjoined Henry’s, went on to live in the suburb for 60 years until her passing at age 73.

You might have noticed that the Kinsella family chose not to smile for their photographs. This was common, as in the late nineteenth century exposure times could vary from seconds to a few minutes, depending on the photographer’s equipment. It was easier for the sitter if they did not smile. The long exposure times also made it difficult to photograph young children as the sitter had to sit very still to avoid a blurry photo. This led to a unique form of photography in the Victorian period now known as ‘hidden mother photography’,[8] where a parent would be in the background of the photograph covered in a veil or material as they held the child in place.

      vic  vic2
  Examples of what is now referred to as ‘hidden mother’ photography.[9]

Unfortunately, the identity of below the family in the photo below is unknown; however, it is thought to have been taken in the late 1800s. While this mother did not use the ‘hidden mother’ method you can appreciate how she is holding her youngest child steady.

snaphot

Unknown, date unknown. Georges River Council Local Studies collection.

By the 1920s photography had become far more accessible. Kodak had released the ‘Kodak Brownie’[10] which was the first mass-marketed camera and photographing mugshots had become a key part of policing procedure in identification.[11] The local newspaper for the St George region, The Propeller began running a series of articles with helpful tips for the amateur photographer suggesting that cameras were widely available and used throughout the area.

newspaper

‘Amateur photography – Photographing children’.[12]

Despite people being amazed at the process of photography, there was also a sense of disappointment that these images were not able to capture the brilliant colours of everyday life.[13] Some photographers would paint their photographs in an attempt to recreate the colour of their subjects’ clothing and surroundings as early as the 1850s. Even when processes for colour photography began, hand painting photographs was usually the chosen method as it was cheaper and easier. It might be surprising to some that Kodak released colour Kodachrome film in Australia as early as 1935. Kodachrome was essentially black and white film with colour added during processing.[14] Despite it being available, colour film was far more expensive, and black and white film continued to be popular until the 1970s when it became cheaper to buy.

With smartphones today almost everyone has a camera in their pocket, making it possible to document minute details of our day to day life. In the picture presents a time when having your photograph taken was a significant event, for some it may have been the only photograph taken of them in their entire lives.

View In the picture, on show until 28 July 2019, to see more photographs of portraiture from the Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

 

[1] Emma Backer, ‘History of the selfie’, The Culture Trip, https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/new-york/articles/history-of-the-selfie-a-photo-phenomenon/ viewed 12 June 2019.

[2] ‘The Daguerreotype’, Australasian Chronicle, 13 April 1841, p. 3

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://notquiteinfocus.com/2014/10/16/a-brief-history-of-photography-part-11-early-portrait-photography/

[6] https://notquiteinfocus.com/2014/10/16/a-brief-history-of-photography-part-11-early-portrait-photography/

[7] ‘Bexley Pioneer’s Death’, The Propeller, 15 April 1943, p.6. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/235570597?searchTerm=%22Walter%20Preddey%22%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=

[8] Abraham Piper, ‘Victorian parents hiding in pictures’, Twenty-Two Wordshttps://twentytwowords.com/victorian-parents-hiding-pictures-keep-babies-still-long-enough-portrait-20-pics/

[9] Bella Bathurst, ‘The lady vanishes: Victorian photography’s hidden mothers’, The Guardian, 2 December 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/dec/02/hidden-mothers-victorian-photography, viewed 5 June 2019.

[10] ‘The photograph and Australia: Timeline’, Art Gallery of New South Waleshttps://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artsets/51b88k

[11] ‘The collection: New South Wales Police Forensic Photography’, Sydney Living Museumshttps://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/nsw-police-forensic-photography-archive-collection

[12] ‘Amateur photography – Photographing children’, The Propeller, 18 June 1920, p. 4, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/234775155?browse=ndp%3Abrowse%2Ftitle%2FP%2Ftitle%2F1225%2F1920%2F06%2F18%2Fpage%2F25385369%2Farticle%2F234775155, viewed 5 June 2019

[13] ‘A short history of colour photography’, Science and Media Museumhttps://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-short-history-of-colour-photography/

[14] Ibid.

References:

Abraham Piper, ‘Victorian parents hiding in pictures’, Twenty-Two Wordshttps://twentytwowords.com/victorian-parents-hiding-pictures-keep-babies-still-long-enough-portrait-20-pics/

‘Amateur photography – Photographing children’, The Propeller, 18 June 1920, p. 4, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/234775155?browse=ndp%3Abrowse%2Ftitle%2FP%2Ftitle%2F1225%2F1920%2F06%2F18%2Fpage%2F25385369%2Farticle%2F234775155, viewed 5 June 2019

Anna Marks, ‘The unsettling world of Victorian photography’, Vice,  https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pgqj3z/the-daguerreotype-unsettling-world-of-victorian-photography

‘A short history of colour photography’, Science and Media Museumhttps://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-short-history-of-colour-photography/

Bella Bathurst, ‘The lady vanishes: Victorian photography’s hidden mothers’, The Guardian, 2 December 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/dec/02/hidden-mothers-victorian-photography, viewed 5 June 2019.

‘Bexley Pioneer’s Death’, The Propeller, 15 April 1943, p.6. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/235570597?searchTerm=%22Walter%20Preddey%22%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=

Emma Backer, ‘History of the selfie’, The Culture Trip, https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/new-york/articles/history-of-the-selfie-a-photo-phenomenon/ viewed 12 June 2019.

Mike Kukulski, ‘A brief history of photography’, Not quite in focushttps://notquiteinfocus.com/2014/10/16/a-brief-history-of-photography-part-11-early-portrait-photography/ viewed 12 June 2019.

‘The Daguerreotype’, Australasian Chronicle, 13 April 1841, p. 3

‘The collection: New South Wales Police Forensic Photography’, Sydney Living Museumshttps://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/nsw-police-forensic-photography-archive-collection

‘The photograph and Australia: Timeline’, Art Gallery of New South Waleshttps://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artsets/51b88k

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