Pages from Newcastle on Glass

SteveWilko

IMAGES ON GLASS

ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter

ong>fromong> glass plate negatives


©2015 Greg and Sylvia Ray

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic

or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,

without the written permission of the copyright owner.

Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, ong>Newcastleong>

Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray

Concept and design by Greg and Sylvia Ray

Research and captions by Greg Ray

Front cover: Two young girls look out to sea ong>fromong> ong>Newcastleong>. Photo by William Fraser

Back cover: Decay lends an eerie poignancy to this World War I portrait by Alexander Galloway

Title page vignette: ong>Newcastleong> ong>fromong> The Hill, in the 1930s


IMAGES ON GLASS

ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter

ong>fromong> glass plate negatives

Selected, arranged and interpreted by Greg Ray

Layout and image restoration by Sylvia Ray


Introduction: about glass plate photography

The word “camera” meant “chamber” in Latin, and long before the now-familiar devices for capturing and

reproducing images were devised, people invented their forerunner, the “camera obscura”.

A camera obscura (literally, “darkened room”) was typically a box or room with a small hole in one side

through which light ong>fromong> the outside world could enter, casting an inverted image on the opposite wall

inside. The ancients correctly deduced ong>fromong> camera obscuras that light travels in straight lines, and in more

recent centuries some artists used large portable camera obscuras to help them create two-dimensional

pictures by allowing an image to be projected onto canvas and tracing it with pencils or paint.

From time to time, would-be inventors wrestled with the challenge of permanently fixing the images

projected into camera obscuras, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that this goal was finally achieved.

Experimenters tried all sorts of chemical mixtures before managing to produce recognisable photographs

in the 1830s. Early systems using glass plates to support the light-sensitive emulsions were cumbersome and

difficult to use, but eventually a dry-plate system evolved, bringing photography within reach of enthusiasts.

Glass was ultimately supplanted by flexible film, which has now mostly given way to digital technology. But

for a number of decades glass negatives were the standard, and many photographers in the Hunter Region

produced images using this technology. Despite their seeming fragility, large numbers of glass plate negatives

have survived. Collections are regularly “rediscovered” in garages, under houses and in attics, and although

they are often affected by damp and poor storage, they usually yield at least some worthwhile images.

Modern scanning techniques have made it much easier to reformat the images ong>fromong> physical negatives

to digital positives, and powerful image manipulation software has replaced dark-room techniques for

enhancing digitised pictures.

This book is designed chiefly as a nod to the days of glass plate photography, in the context of the local

history of ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter. It follows in the footsteps of earlier books - particularly those by Norm

Barney and Bert Lovett - that showcased the prolific output of Novocastrian photographer Ralph Snowball.

The Hunter had numerous other photographers in the glass plate years, however, and this book goes some

small way towards presenting a portion of the work of some of them. The kernel of this collection came to us

ong>fromong> the estate of the late Ken Magor, whose accumulations of photographs were the basis of our first books.

We have tried to avoid too much repetition of photographs that have appeared in our earlier books, even

though that has meant omitting some of our best and favourite glass plate images. A handful, however, have

been republished. A very small number of the images in the book are taken ong>fromong> film negatives or prints, but

only where we felt their inclusion was important for one reason or another.

One of the virtues of glass plate negatives is their potential for producing images of great detail that

are capable of being magnified many times. That’s partly due to the size of the negatives, but also to the

emulsions used and the quality of the cameras and lenses used to make the photographs. Much also depends

on the photographers, of course, and the skill they brought to the issues of exposure, framing and focus.

We have tried to highlight these virtues of the negatives selected by enlarging details of interest and

presenting them alongside the uncropped full-plate images.

Apart ong>fromong> the images ong>fromong> the Ken Magor estate, other collections were given or loaned ong>fromong> a variety

of sources. Norm and Betty Mead provided some stunning plates, as did Daphne Barney, Phil Warrren, Col

Skelton and Lyn Merrilees. Brian J. Andrews at the Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum at Kurri Kurri

kindly let us use some images ong>fromong> the rediscovered collection of photographer Alexander Galloway. Still

more were loaned to us by Peter Barden.

The astonishing panorama of ong>Newcastleong> in the early 20th century came to us ong>fromong> Bruce Mullen, who

bought the plates at a garage sale and passed them on. They were a mystery for some time until we realised

the images joined at the edges!

Some of the most beautiful and technically superb images are ong>fromong> plates loaned by Anne Hudson. These

plates are the work of her grandfather, William Fraser of Hamilton.

Gionni Di Gravio, at the University of ong>Newcastleong>, has been - as always - obliging and generous with his

knowledge and with access to items in the university’s extensive archives. To all these donors and lenders we


are extremely grateful. Still more people, too many to list, have assisted in a myriad other ways - usually by

helping to identify particular photographs or to put them in their proper context.

Fairfax ong>Newcastleong>/Hunter group managing Editor Chad Watson’s continuing and enthusiastic support for

our historical endeavours has been invaluable, and we are grateful to our printers, NCP at Steel River, for

helping us make our books in Australia and, as far as possible, in the Hunter Region.

A photographer sets up his

apparatus on top of a shelter

shed on ong>Newcastleong> Beach on

a busy day by the sea.

1


A delightful elevated view of ong>Newcastleong> Beach, with Nobbys Headland in the background, by William Fraser.

2


The photography of William Fraser

William Fraser (1882 - 1958), the son of a Scottish immigrant, was schooled in Hamilton and trained as a

cabinet-maker. He married his wife Britannia in Scots Kirk, Tudor Street, in 1909. He was an accomplished

timber worker who found a speciality in building church furniture and ceremonial pieces, as well as “honour

rolls” listing the names of people who signed up to serve in the armed forces in World War I. Something of an

athlete (he loved cycling and gymnastics), William was also a prolific photographer. As well as portraits and

landscape work in the Hunter area, he created many “trick” photographic images and also stereoscopic views.

After his death he left a substantial legacy of glass plate negatives which have fortunately been lovingly

preserved by his grand-daughter Anne Hudson, who has generously provided many images for this volume.

A self-portrait of Hamilton photographer William Fraser, relaxing with a book in his leafy conservatory.

William Fraser’s photographs

appear on the following pages:

Cover, 1-3, 15-17, 20-21, 25,

29, 34-35, 46-55, 58 (top), 59,

78-79, 80 (bottom), 81 (top),

84-86, 90 (top), 91, 98, 116-

119, 122-123, 128-129, 131

(top), 133-135, 150, 152-153,

160 (top).

3


It isn’t clear what these four photographers were intent on capturing ong>fromong>

their positions on a seemingly new rail bridge over a creek. But they make

a good subject for a fifth colleague who produced a sharp, clear glass plate

negative of the occasion. The close-ups show some more of the equipment

in use, as well as some nice glimpses of the characters behind the lenses.

4


This delightful negative seems to

have been intended, at least partly,

as some sort of advertisement for

Griffith Tea. The water spilling over

the rocks is blurry, suggesting a

slow shutter speed. But the human

subjects obviously stayed carefully

still, as evidenced by the fact that the

headline on the front page of The

Sunday Sun can be easily read. “Tram

Strike. Yesterday’s Developments”.

Note the camera, on its tripod,

behind the man with the newspaper.

5


This lovely silver cup was presented by A.

Pritchett to the North Stockton-Elmbank

Rowing Club in 1925. Naturally a photographer

was required to record the gift. Most likely the

photographer didn’t realise he was also capturing

his own upside-down portrait for posterity,

squatting alongside his camera and tripod, with

onlookers nearby to watch the exciting operation.

Sharp eyes have noted the Stockton property The

Laurels, in the background.

6


The negative envelope is labelled

“Belmont line”, so the tunnel is

presumably the one still in use (by

cyclists) on the Fernleigh Track.

The standard equipment of a glassplate

photographer was bulky, and

this operator has both hands full

with his case and tripod as he walks

along the rail line.

7


The interesting aerial photographs on the next four pages were taken by the Sydney photographer Milton

Kent, on assignment for one of the major ong>Newcastleong> heavy industries in the 1930s. They represent part

of an aerial survey of the city area, and come ong>fromong> the archives of the Goninan engineering group.

Fort Scratchley stands watch over the city, with its well-known argument with a Japanese submarine still some

years in the future. Sooty Zaara Street power station looms just behind the fort, dominating the city’s East End.

8


Nobbys Headland,

with Horseshoe

Beach behind and to

the right, in 1934.

9


In 1935 BHP marked its 20th year of operation. This aerial view shows some detail of the steelworks’ operations.

10


Wickham in 1935. Land reclamation continues and working-class housing sprawls over the sandy ground.

11


A splendid beach scene at

ong>Newcastleong> on what appears to

be a carnival day, circa 1900.

12


13


“Ladies only”, reads the sign on the pavilion, as men and women stroll the promenade at ong>Newcastleong> Beach.

14


Two lovely views of ong>Newcastleong> Beach, looking south. The foreground figure at top is Hamilton photographer

William Fraser, who took many beach pictures. At bottom the bulk of ong>Newcastleong> Hospital rises against

the skyline. In later years the city’s seaside hospital grew and grew, changing its appearance dramatically.

15

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