don’t move – the 19th century transition to reduced exposure photographs

SF Instantaneous Photographic CoOn the hunt for some more shopfront photographs, I came across the so-called San Francisco Instantaneous Photographic Company. This newspaper advertisement on 4 October 1883 appeared in the Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate.  They could have saved on printing ink by shortening the paper’s name, but I digress.

So what was this thing called instantaneous photography, and why were customers and photographers alike excited by it?

The UK’s National Media Museum posted this to their blog in June.

The earliest photographic processes normally required exposures of many seconds, or even minutes, rendering the photography of movement impossible.

However, with the right combination of lighting, subject, lens and plate size, exposures of a fraction of a second, whilst still very difficult to achieve, were possible.

The taking of such photographs became known as ‘instantaneous photography’. Whilst the term was in common usage during the 19th century, there was surprisingly little discussion or agreement as to precisely what it meant.

In practice, it was applied to any photograph which contained an element of movement or which was taken with an exposure of less than one second.

In November 1880, an article in the South Australian Register explained.

Instantaneous Photography

INSTANTANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHY— The system of instantaneous photography has been recently adopted by Messrs. J. R. Dobson & Co., of the Temple of Light, Bundle-street, and the result of the improvement is the production of photographs infinitely superior in clearness, accuracy, and general effect to the likenesses taken under the old style. We were shown some sixty portraits of adults and children, and all of them were remarkable for the minuteness of detail as well as naturalness of expression, rendering them very faithful portraits. For photographing children this instantaneous process must be an invaluable aid, as the fleeting expression of a restless child’s face can be taken in a second ; and for adults it is very much more comfortable to sit for only a moment to have a portrait taken, without the inconvenience of having the head pilloried in an iron rest. In the photographs produced by the instantaneous process the natural expression of the eyes, the texture of the garments, and the softness of the lights and shades were particularly noticeable. The only fault some people could find with the process would be that it might too accurately portray the features, but they could remedy that by calling up their sweetest expression, and assume a virtue if they have it not.

This (out of copyright) photograph from the State Library of Victoria‘s collection was taken in Toongabbie, Victoria c 1890-1891 by the aforesaid photographic company. I’m not sure that the woman was calling up her sweetest expression as she looks quite sad, even without the inconvenience of her head being pilloried in an iron rest.

Toongabbie, Victoria - portrait

Woman, three-quarter length, to right, lace panel down front of dress, inscribed in black ink on verso: Toongabbie

reverse photo - stamp


I just had to add this comment to the body of this post.  Thanks to pellethepoet for an amusing story on the discomfort of posing for long exposure photographs.


Sir William Macarthur tells a humourous story of the ordeal for sitters of the long exposure –

“One day,” he says, “an old lady from the country was sitting before [William] Hetzer’s camera. Mrs. Hetzer, whose name was Teckla [sic – Thekla], helped in the studio and sensitised the plate in the darkroom while her husband posed the sitter. When the old lady was ready for the plate, Hetzer called out to his wife, ‘Teckla! Teckla!’ whereupon the nervous sitter jumped up in terror and exclaimed ‘For heaven’s sake don’t tickle me, sir, I can’t Stand any more!’”

from The Story of the Camera in Australia by Jack Cato (Melbourne : Georgian House, 1955), p. 17.

shopfront – A E Fowler: news & cycle agency

Three men and a woman standing under the verandah of A. E. Fowler’s News & Cycle Agency c 1920-1935 from the Reginald Wood collection of glass lantern slides in the State Library of Victoria.

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This report appeared in The Argus of 16 February 1898 – it may be a hint as to the location of the photograph.  I’m unfamiliar with the landscape of the town of Bright and am hoping someone might recognise the church spire or know some of the history to put us straight.  The catalogue record tags the photograph as Stores retail – Victoria.

Art Union - A E Fowler

lantern slide – Pompeii c 1924

Following a recent post about Pat Hanna, here’s one more image from the Hanna Collection in the State Library of Victoria.  Another lantern slide that has survived over time.

View of Pompeii, House of Holonicus – glass lantern slide c 1924  Woodbury Lantern Slide Co (out of copyright).

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The Rose Series of postcards

There’s not a lot to be found online about a photographer called George Rose and his impressive body of work within Australia and elsewhere.

I have selected a sample of the thousands of the Rose postcard series accessible online at the State Library of Victoria. These are out of copyright due to the uncertainty of the date they were taken.  Most are tagged c 1920-1954.  Here’s a link to photographs taken in Melbourne in the Olympic year of 1956 which are still in copyright and as such cannot be reproduced here.

Another source of these rich images is the work of Ron Blum who has collated George Rose’s work into two books and a CD.

At the foot of Deany’s Steps – Port Campbell   I think the emulsion damage adds to the charm of this one.

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St Kilda from the Pier

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Aerial View of Melbourne Cricket Ground

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The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell  The inset colour photo via Wikipedia shows the collapse of one of the stacks in 2005.

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The State Library of Victoria holds over 7000 images (here) from the Rose Series. Other libraries have their own collections relevant to their state. Many of the photographs were taken by others after the deaths of George (in 1942) and Walter (George’s son and proprietor until he pre-deceased his father) in 1940.

The Argus – 21 January 1942

Obituary - George Rose

reel entertainment – Pat Hanna

The hand coloured glass lantern slide below is an advertisement for Pat Hanna’s fishing reel which includes instructions for its use. Its companion slide (both are c 1924) is from the same Hanna Collection at the State Library of Victoria.

Pat Hanna was a variety stage and film entertainer as well as a keen fisherman and inventor.  In the 1920s, he was touring Australia with his troupe The Diggers.  Cairns Post – 23 July 1925.  Diggers

The photograph is from The Courier Mail of 27 February 1934.

Wintergarden Theatre Brisbane

Mr. Pat Hanna, film producer and actor (on right), greeted by Mr. E. H Pelling, manager of the Winter Garden Theatre, on his arrival at Brisbane yesterday.

Head over here for more about Pat Hanna’s life as a performer from the Australian Variety Theatre Archive site.

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library and museum blogs – finds worth the browse

Trove Australia provides access to thousands of articles, pictures, photographs, book references, maps, diaries and more.  The digitised newspaper collection was the inspiration for establishing this blog.

If you ever doubted the value of libraries (and I sincerely hope that none of this blog’s readers fall into this category), take a stroll through the internet for the wealth of material that gets shared via the blogs of libraries, museums and galleries across Australia.

A  quick browse this morning unearthed these treasure troves.

Who were the first retailers in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane?    The John Oxley Library blog.


What was the first state funeral ever held in Australia?    State Library of Victoria – Such Was Life blog.


Why a duck, Michael Leunig?    State Library of Victoria – Arts blog.


What was the meaning of embroidered floral postcards sent back from the front in World War I?   Australian War Memorial blog.

Australian War Memorial RC06231

What sort of toys did children play with in the 1940s in country Australia? – Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – Inside the Collection blog.


19th century advertising posters – Troedel & Co

Image - Wikipedia

Image – Wikipedia

This is Charles Troedel, a German lithographic printer who set up business in Melbourne in 1863 (150 years ago).  In the early days, Troedel employed the artist Arthur Streeton as an apprentice lithographer.  You can find a history of the company here at Troedel’s website.  In 1968, Troedel & Co donated its archive to the State Library of Victoria.

The four images below are part of that archive – late nineteenth century advertising posters for wine, furniture, horse and cattle liniment and bowler hats.  All are out of copyright and can be found on the State Library of Victoria site via the links under each of the images. Trove’s  Pictures, Photos and Objects section is a gateway to images in libraries and other repositories across Australia.