Photographers in Nineteenth Century Southampton, an introduction. ***** Daguerreotypes. ***** Cartomania: the fashion for cartes de visite ***** The Ordnance Survey. ***** Royal Patronage ***** Richard Leach Maddox and the development of the 'dry plate' process ***** Women Photographers. ***** Changing times. ***** Southampton Victorian Photographers and the wider world *****
Southampton, 1839. From a Picturesque excursion to Southampton, Lymington, Winchester and Netley Abbey
Photographers in Nineteenth Century Southampton
In early 1842, the first photograph taken in Southampton was produced by George Smith, in a purpose built glass house on the corner of Portland Terrace and Ogle Street. Later in the same year John Goddard, a lecturer in physics, took over the studio and established The Photographic Institution in Southampton. The early 1840s were a time of rapid change in the town, with the recent arrival of the railway connection, and nearly 1,900 men employed in the expansion of the docks. Railways and steam powered ships radically reduced travel times, and with the advent of photography, a portrait could be obtained in hours and minutes, rather than weeks and days.
From Recollections of Southampton by George Phillips, Stationer, c 1850
Advertisement by Mr Marks late 1840s. The cost of a small portrait was more than many people in Southampton earned in a year. (Image courtesy of Southampton Central Library)
Daguerreotypes, the first commercial portraits, were difficult and expensive to produce and therefore only accessible to people with the financial means to purchase them. For this reason the earliest photographers moved from town to town seeking new clientele in order to bring in sufficient income to cover costs, and pay the licence fee for the use of the daguerreotype process. Many towns the size of Southampton were not visited by daguerreotype artists for years at a time. Southampton was unusual in that during the 1840s there were resident daguerreotype artists in the town, for example the Barter brothers. The busy International commercial and passenger port provided the earliest portrait photographers with a steady trade.
Carte de visite of well dressed subject by W.G Smith early 1860s
Portraits became more affordable when the daguerreotype licence expired, and new photographic processes were developed in the early 1850s that enabled production of photographs on paper, mounted on card. As 'Cartomania' (the fashion for collecting carte de visite photographs) took off around the world in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the choice of photography studios in Southampton grew rapidly. Some photographers produced cartes de visite in such numbers, that many examples survive. Miniature portrait painter and drawing instructor Joseph F. Sharpe added photography to his repertoire in the early 1850s. In the later 1850s many carvers, gilders and picture frame makers turned to portrait photography, such as Samuel Wiseman, George Southgate and W.G Smith.
Carte de visite by the Star Photographic Co, 1877
At the height of 'Cartomania' people from many social backgrounds collected and exchanged cards of themselves, family members,celebrities of the day and curiosities of all kinds. The portraits are a celebration of survival against the odds in a time of high mortality rates: and memorials of loved ones, representations of pride and a sense of identity that the majority of people could not have imagined before photographic portraits became readily available.
Some photographers, for example George Latter and John Beer, worked as portrait photographers in Southampton from the 1850s and early 1860s into the next century. Other photographers worked in Southampton for a short time and then moved on. From up market 'Photographic artists' to small studios attached to other businesses, such as a confectioners or drapers, a wide range of budgets and tastes were catered for.
The Ordnance Survey
Postcard c 1906
The Ordnance Survey relocated to Southampton in 1841. The usefulness of photography in map making was recognised in the early 1850s, and contributed to the unusual numbers of photographers in the town. Many Southampton photographers were connected to the Ordnance Survey. Samuel John Cox, Samuel Moyle, Preston and Rider, and Frederick Bell were among the Southampton portrait photographers employed by the Ordnance survey at some time. Albert Algar began his career as a commercial portrait photographer in 1869, and went to work for the Ordnance Survey, eventually becoming the Superintendent of Photography in 1894.
Ordnance Survey Glass House
Prince Albert's interest in the arts and science attracted him to photography in the early 1840s. From the earliest days of photography, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were keen collectors. Queen Victoria and visiting family members passed through Southampton on the way to and from the Royal summer residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. Isle of Wight photographers to Queen Victoria, Symonds and Wheeler, and Brown and Wheeler briefly opened studios in Southampton in the 1860s and 1870s. One of the most prestigious Southampton photography studios, Adams and Stilliard (later Adams and Scanlan) proudly advertised the patronage of various royals on the reverse of their portraits in the 1880s and 1890s.
Richard Leach Maddox
In the 1860s Richard Leach Maddox, a medical doctor living in Woolston, Southampton, became interested in photography and its application in medical science. However, the chemical processes involved damaged his health and he turned his attention to developing a less toxic process. Early photographic processing was a hazardous endeavour involving unstable and highly poisonous chemicals, and the work of Dr Leach Maddox no doubt saved many lives. Maddox produced a gelatin bromide emulsion that did not involve the use of ether and cyanide and lead to the development of the 'dry plate' process, which was safer and less toxic than the 'wet plate' process. . His early discoveries were improved and developed by other photographers, and the new dry plate process was universally adopted in the 1870s.
Study of census records reveal that several nineteenth century Southampton photographers were women. For example, Mark Jessop, E.Chamberlain and P.Douglas were all female photographers who chose to conceal that they were women. As late as the 1890s photographer Nellie G Smith was listed as The West End Photo Co, 'successors to Chalkley Gould', and did not advertise in her own name until 1915.
Carte de visite by P.Douglas (Priscilla)
As the market for cartes de visite and cabinet cards reached saturation point in the later 1870s, many photographers specialised and diversified. By the 1880s Priscilla Douglas clearly prospered by specialising in photographing children, and George Latter by turning to producing photographs of boats and ships in the port. The firms of Debenham and Smith and Adams and Stilliard/ Adams and Scanlan dominated the market for high end 'art' portraits. The original photographers in the firm of Adams and Stilliard had trained with Samuel J Wiseman in the early 1860s, and by the 1880s Wiseman moved away from up market commercial photography to concentrate on his fine art dealership and gallery. George Southgate, who progressed from humble beginnings in Canal Walk in the early 1860s to the more prestigious Bernard Street in the 1870s, gave up photography in the 1880s to concentrate on engraving and picture frame making, while also being landlord at several public houses.
Cabinet Card by George Latter early 1900s.
Commercial portrait studios carried on well into the twentieth century in Southampton, but the hey day of the carte de visite and cabinet card was over by the late 1890s. The introduction of cameras for domestic use meant that people could take their own family photographs. 'Cartomania' was over by the early 1900s, and photography studios turned to producing post cards instead.
Unattributed cabinet card 1890s. Possibly advertising for a Southampton brewery
Southampton Photographers and the wider world.
The stories of the nineteenth century Southampton Photographers also provide a perspective through which to view the town's connections to the wider world. Changing fashions in clothing, interior design and graphic design are all documented by the portrait cards. Several photographers came to Southampton from overseas, for example Adolphus Butler was from the Channel Islands, and George Edmonds from America. Others born in the UK emigrated, including Samuel J. Wiseman's brother Joseph. Events in Southampton connected to the American Civil War (see John Beer and Samuel J Wiseman), the growth and expansion of the port, travel, and emigration, are just some of the threads within the stories of Southampton's Victorian Photographers.
Carte de visite by Edmonds, American Photographer, 1860s.