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An exquisite child portrait from the collection: a real masterpiece.

A tantalising photo mystery

One of the problems with many collections of old photographs and negatives is that they are too often disconnected from their history and provenance. Sometimes that doesn’t really matter. If the subject matter is mostly generic then the images may stand on their own. But some collections cry out for more explanation.

I recently bought a small collection of 35 glass plate negatives from a seller in Melbourne. My main reason for buying was the presence in the collection of five plates depicting some of the decorative arches erected in Melbourne at the time of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York for the opening of the first Australian Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.

A beautifully executed landscape view on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.

When the collection arrived I noted a couple of portraits of a Great War soldier – an officer, I think – an image of Ballarat, Victoria and one of some scenery on The Great Ocean Road. The rest were family shots – a category of image I rarely find particularly noteworthy. Except in this case most of the photographs were really quite exceptional, and I found myself wishing I knew more about the photographer and the family.

Some of the portraits and family shots are exceptionally fine, displaying a real mastery of equipment and technique that must have taken a great deal of practice to attain. Was the photographer a talented amateur or a professional?

This extraordinary portrait of a mother and baby is carefully posed and superbly realised. The pose is natural, the exposure even and the strong backlight is expertly compensated for.
This more prosaic family group might one day yield some clues to the photographer’s identity. I hope so.
An outdoor composition of great beauty. The dappled light and shade and the understated placement of the figures make a fine picture.
Another fine child portrait.
Another charming portrait, well-posed and composed.

It’s probably a forlorn hope, but I really would like to know who took these lovely photos. Perhaps this modest blog post will some day find its way to somebody who knows the answer.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Eric Victor

    Greg. Wonderful photographs! Who ever collected these images had a great eye themselves. They are from different times, starting in 1901, the war of 1914 and the kids circa 1950, I guess. Do the film negs have notches or coding?
    The shot of mother and baby, as well as the kids in the boat have a good professional feels to them. It would be wonderful if you had something from Cazneaux or Dupain.

    1. Greg Ray

      They are all glass negs Eric, and I don’t think the family shots are as recent as the 1950s. Cheers, Greg

  2. Phil

    I can see why those plates impressed you. Rather breathtaking that level of professionalism & skill. ~ Phil

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