Henry King Photography Studio 1880-1900
The Tyrrell Photographic Collection at the Powerhouse Museum contains around 1,300 glass plate negatives taken by the Sydney based photographer Henry King. They were taken between 1880 and 1917, although most appear to have been made in the late 1880s and 1890s. Unlike Charles Kerry, King mainly operated alone but his work is often more lyrical than that of Kerry. He was undeniably one of the Colony's most significant early photographers and as early as 1904 the Australasian Photographic Review described King as ' ? a photographer of the old and new schools combined, and stands high in the esteem of the craft.'
Although born in England around 1855, Henry King grew up in Sydney. He found work with the well-known Sydney photographer J. Hubert Newman and in 1880 established a studio in partnership with William Slade. Four years later he was the sole proprietor.
King quickly established a reputation for himself due to the high quality of his finished work. At some stage between 1889 and 1894 King travelled through New South Wales and Queensland photographing Indigenous Australians. It appears this work, like that done by other photographers before him, was for display at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The series of photographs was carefully planned by King who took with him a painted studio backdrop of the Australian bush and carefully posed the sitters in virtually identically positions. It also appears that King collected items of material culture on these travels, as a shield collected by King at Clermont Station, Queensland, is mentioned in a paper by R. Etheridge in 1897.
King also collected together a number of South Pacific photographs for the Colombian exhibition, which although credited to King's Studio are unlikely to have taken by him. Instead it appears King acquired copies of negatives taken in New Guinea by the Reverend W. G. Lawes so he could make prints of them for the New South Wales Court at the World's Colombian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. This relationship continued, although it is uncertain if Lawes benefited monetarily, as King also sold prints of Lawes' negatives from his studio in King Street, Sydney. These prints King divided into three categories 'General', 'Missionary' and 'Anthropological', each of around 100 photographs and for sale at two shillings each.
The Tyrrell collection also has smaller numbers of South Pacific images taken in Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu which are credited to King. It is still not clear whether King, or other photographers, were responsible for these but it seems likely that they were collected from photographers working in the Pacific like Reverend Lawes. However until further research has been done it is important not to rule out the possibility that King took some of these images as tourist cruises were operating in the South Pacific by 1884.
While King's income, like that of many other photographers, was dependent on portraiture he, like Kerry, is best known for his outdoor work. It appears that sometime in the late 1880s or 1890s King moved away from portraiture and began producing more landscape views. These views, particularly his city views, are justifiably praised and seem more carefully framed and printed than Kerry's. Outdoor views of Sydney make up the main bulk of King's work in the collection although, like Kerry, he took a series of photographs of the Jenolan Caves using magnesium flares. The artistic skills he brought to bear on his work were recognized by his contemporaries and between 1900 and 1910 he was commissioned to do photographic work for the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Henry King died aged 68 in Waverley War Memorial Hospital on 22 May 1923 following abdominal surgery.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, December 2008
King, Richard, Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition
Joseph Leibovic, Henry King, 1855 - 1923, auction catalogue, Joesph Leibovic Gallery, Paddington, Australia, date unknown
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
David, Millar, Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1981
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