Photographic positive, daguerreotype, Swanston Street from the corner of Collins Street, silver / copper / glass / leather / wood, photographer Thomas Glaister (attributed), Melbourne, 1854 -1855
This daguerreotype of Swanston Street in Melbourne is among the earliest taken of the fledgling city. The 1850s and the discovery of gold saw Melbourne grow to rival Sydney as the centre of commerce and the arts in the Australia but outdoor photographs from this period remain rare. The influx of money from the goldfields brought photographers to the city, but mainly to make portraits of the new citizenry. While studios made their money selling portraits, they sometimes took larger outdoor views. This is a rare example of one taken in Melbourne just after the early growth spurt of 1852 and 1853 and was probably exhibited the photographers studio or shop window to attract customers.
In 1854, Thomas Glaister, who had worked at Meade Brothers & Co. in New York, set up a subsidiary studio under their name in Melbourne. But it seems this arrangement was too constraining for Glaister who in 1855 left Melbourne to work under his own name in Sydney. However there are a number of reasons for thinking this photograph was taken by Glaister during his two year stint Melbourne.
Firstly the dates of his stay in Melbourne correspond to the dates when Thomas Ham was in charge of the 'Central Land Office' at 35 Swanston Street. This office, which can be seen in the photograph, only existed between 1853 and 1855 when it became 'C.J. and T. Ham'. Secondly there is the fact that Glaister's studio was in Collins Street where this image, presumably taken from the roof of a building, was taken. Lastly the unusual size of the outdoor view (123 x 180 mm) means it likely to have been made to advertise a new photographer's skills rather than be a commissioned work. As Glaister's studio was in Collins Street it is likely he would have chosen a nearby location to advertise his photographic skills.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, March 2009
Alan Davies and Peter Stanbury with assistance from Con Tanre, The Mechanical Eye in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985
The Grolier Society, The Australian Encyclopaedia, Third Edition, Grolier Society, 1977
Ian F. McLaren, 'Ham, Thomas (1821 - 1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972
The daguerreotype was a remarkably complex process. To make a daguerreotype you firstly had to clean a piece of silver plate to a mirror finish using a slurry made from pumice in oil, then give it a number of washings in nitric acid and water to remove the oil residue. Secondly the prepared plate had to be sensitised by exposing it to iodine vapour. Then the sensitised plate was placed in a camera and exposed to light, the exposure time varied according to the time of the day, the season of the year and the weather, and could be from three to thirty minutes. The silver plate was then exposed over heated mercury vapour until an image appeared and lastly it was fixed by placing the plate in a hot solution of common salt or a solution of sodium thiosulfate.
Keeping a supply of the correct chemicals, making sure the plates and workspace were kept free of dust and ensuring there was a supply of clean water all conspired to limit the practicality of travelling with a camera. This coupled with the lengthy exposure times, which were a result of deficiencies of these early photographic emulsions and the quality of the camera's lens, made the whole process complicated and unwieldy.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September 2009
Janet Burger, French Daguerreotypes, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1989
Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, Thames and Hudson, Germany, 1965
Rudolf, Kingslake, A History of the Photographic Lens, Academic Press Limited, San Diego, California, 1989
Naomi Rosenblum, World History of Photography, Abbeville Press, New York, 1984