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Monday, 3 August 2015

Nineteenth century photos restored

This handsome fellow is present here because the daguerrotype that was taken of him in the middle of the 19th century survived the trials of time and capricious storage solutions. There is also an ambrotype of a woman that is in good condition, and another ambrotype of a woman that did not survive the 2011 flooding of mum's garage with sewage. Unfortunately, that last item is beyond fixing.

Fortunately though, mum did make a print of it some years before the original was damaged, and that print is still on the wall of mum's room in the nursing home. The original of that ambrotype is now stored away safely - despite the terrible damage it suffered - in a custom-made archival box.

Each of the prints has its own archival box. The boxes were made for the prints by the conservators in Annandale. They also disassembled the prints - ambrotypes are printed on glass, daguerrotypes on metal - and cleaned them, and put them back together with improvements. As far as I know this is the first time the prints have been looked at professionally in this way since they were taken all those decades ago. What is furthermore unfortunate is that I do not know who the prints depict. I presume they are distant family members. Most of the clan came to Australian in the years immediately after Transportation ended, settling in the free colonial cities of Adelaide and Melbourne. I know this because of the genealogical work that dad put in after he retired. But that doesn't really help me to narrow down who the prints are of.

It's tempting however to speculate on what kind of people these were, who had their portraits made in this way at that time. What did it mean to have your portrait made like this in the middle of the 19th century? Was there a typical type of person who did this kind of thing or were the technologies so compelling that literally everyone had their portrait made at some point in their lives? I suppose there will be someone who can answer these questions. It might be a good idea for me to give these prints to the Art Gallery of New South Wales at some point so that they can be reliably looked after for the next three or four hundred years. I might just do that.

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