Among the gems in the Research Library’s collection are several books produced by Harry Phillips in the first half of the 20th century.
The above photograph shows the striking covers of two of Phillips’ books: Most up-to-date Sydney panoramic views published in Katoomba in 1914 and Sydney and Surroundings N.S.W. published in Katoomba in about 1911.
Photographer, printer and publisher, Phillips documented views of the Blue Mountains, Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.
Harry Phillips (1873-1944) was born in Ballarat, the youngest of 11 children. He published his first book, Commonwealth Views, in 1905, only a few years after completing his apprenticeship as a printing machinist. In 1908, whilst recovering from injuries to his hands, he travelled to Katoomba and began to experiment with photography. He found inspiration in the landscape of the mountains and moved with his wife and daughter from Sydney to Katoomba in 1908. He set up his business there and soon began to photograph, print and publish books of views of the local area. By 1919 100,000 copies of his best-selling Blue Mountains Wonderland 81 Views had been printed and Phillips became known for his photography of the Blue Mountains:
“One of the greatest advertisers of the Blue Mountains is Mr Henry, (sic) Phillips, the Mountain photographer. The books of views he publishes, printed and bound with his own plant, are circulated all over the world. They have even been found in German dug-outs in Flanders. The value of his work is undoubted….”
Smiths Weekly, March 21, 1919
Phillips was particularly fascinated with cloud formations and was known to dash out of his shop to spend the day photographing when the weather was suitably overcast. In 1914 he published a book called The Cloud, a series of photographs illustrating the Shelley poem by the same title. The final photograph in the book was called War Clouds, in which Phillips identified a portent of World War I. War Clouds was published widely and Phillips sent copies of the photograph along with his interpretation to the British parliament and the Russian Czar.
Few of Phillips’ photographic negatives survive, making his books the most comprehensive record of his work. Phillips favoured the popular panoramic format in his photography and many of his books were sized accordingly. More than 80 books have been documented and the subject matter extends beyond the Blue Mountains to Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.
The books were produced on high quality paper with ornate lettered covers, usually designed by Phil Blake & Co. Phillips took charge of all other aspects of the production: photography, processing, blocks, printing, assembly, promotion and sales. He simultaneously produced postcards, took portrait photographs, held exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne and worked on schemes for tourism.
(With thanks to Kathy Hackett, Photo Library, Powerhouse Museum)