Lot 44: Glass negatives of Australian soldiers
April 30, 2015
Adelaide, AustraliaLive Auction
[South Australian Soldiers' Portraits] A collection of approximately 100 original half-plate glass negatives (163 x 120 mm or the reverse) featuring South Australian soldiers, almost certainly produced in metropolitan Adelaide in the period late 1914-1916.
Although the majority of the images are single portraits, there is considerable individual variety within settings that could have produced a far more standardized result. Different uniforms, accoutrements and weapons (swords, rifles - with and without fixed bayonets); different backdrops (real and imagined); to say nothing of the wide emotional range displayed by the subjects - after all, most of them had presumably just enlisted to fight in a world war. There are portraits of men in twos, threes and more; men with their wives, sometimes their children too, occasionally their parents. Backgrounds include settings outdoors, both in the open and against buildings - and there is a strong sense that even the 'studio' shots, with their elaborately depicted rural idyll in the background, were produced in makeshift or temporary quarters (a tent at a military camp, for example). The range of images extends well beyond portraiture, as the examples reproduced here testify, with the warhorse a feature in a number of them, senior officers in others; a bemused quartermaster peers through his rimless spectacles. The prize has to go to the group portrait featuring what is presumably the crew required to operate a Heath Robinson-esque contraption we have identified as a West Spring Gun ('Although called a catapult, it was a hybrid of a ballista and a trebuchet'). We will not spoil your enjoyment by further plagiarizing Wikipedia, but consult it you must!
Approximately 66 portraits are identified, generally on the original paper envelopes. (These often give details of the types and quantities of prints ordered; this in itself is very instructive. A few of these envelopes have adhered to the negatives in places, and there is occasional minor damage to the emulsion, but this rarely extends beyond the margins. A thin strip has been detached from the bottom margin of one plate, and there are pieces - mainly from corners - missing from several, but overall the plates are in excellent condition.)
Only one of the envelopes gives the maker's details - Edwards and Errington, 52 Flinders Street, Adelaide. The few examples of works by this studio in the collection of the State Library of South Australia include two of soldiers in front of the elaborate painted backdrop referred to above (where rustic wooden fences recede into trees on either side of the subject). This backdrop is featured in a lot of negatives in this series. It also appears in many of the approximately 150 contemporary portrait negatives of soldiers (1914-1916) listed in the SLSA's collection under the prominent Adelaide firm, Marchant Studios. It may be possible that the SLSA's two Edwards and Errington examples are misattributed Marchant negatives; perhaps the two studios shared makeshift quarters on occasion; what is more likely, in our opinion, is that Edwards and Errington negatives are scarce in collections simply because they have yet to enter them. However, these unique items, in many ways more varied, interesting and informative than the material currently available, are deserving of an institutional home. One further piece of evidence points to the studio of Edwards and Errington: two of the original glass plate cardboard box lids present list the names of the subjects originally housed in the small boxes. Although many of the portraits of the named individuals are no longer present in this collection, one lid records the names 'J. Edwards [twice] ... Edwards & Vigar ... E. Errington'.
Offered together with eleven glass negatives (127 x 101 mm or the reverse), possibly of Sydney origin (they include three negatives of a warship in Sydney Harbour, as well as soldiers' portraits); and eight glass negatives (107 x 81 mm or the reverse) from a different (but similar) series of soldiers' portraits.