19th century photography studio

The Business of Photography

The inaugural exhibition in the Chau Chak Wing Museum’s photography gallery examined 19th century photographic studios in NSW and the characters who ran them.

The way we visualise much of the 19th century is framed by the work of commercial photographic studios. The new technology of photography, invented in 1839, led to the rise of these new businesses which found commercial opportunities in sales of photographs, especially portraits. The Business of Photography turns the lens onto the commercial studio, exploring the stories behind particular New South Wales photographers. Original photographs drawn from the Macleay Collection of historic photography are featured.

Portait of a woman

[Portrait of a woman]
Photograph: GF Jenkinson, Broken Hill
Donated by Sandra Savides, 2014
Macleay Collections


Portraits of everyday people were the bread and butter business, although there was a bustling trade in landscape views and scenes. A range of formats is on view, reflecting how the photographic product changed from early daguerreotypes, captured on silvered copper plates, to photographic prints made from glass negatives.

Commercial photographic business ranged from the small-scale traveling photographer with a portable darkroom to grand city enterprises employing a hundred people by the end of the century. The exhibition explores their stories.

Due to the light sensitivity of some objects, changeovers will occur during the exhibition.

Good taste, a feeling for the fine arts (without any knowledge of drawing), cleanliness and neatness of manipulation, and a little perseverance, are the qualities requisite for a photographer.
Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1855


About the photography gallery

This custom designed space allows for the intimate examination of historic photography. New exhibitions will be presented every 6 - 9 months, drawing on the Macleay Collection of historic photography. The Chau Chak Wing Museum also has a dedicated historic photography store and processing space.


Featured image (top of page): [Interior of a photographic studio], late 19th century, possibly England, Macleay Collections, HP83.30.93

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