Sitting in the corner of my photo studio is this lovely Victorian Elliott & Fry portrait. The gold frame has seen better days and the gelatine has adhered to the glass and lifted in places but it’s an impressive and imposing photograph that I absolutely love.
I’ve made great efforts over the last 9 months, to find out who the sitter is but so far, and even with the help of the National Portrait Gallery, I’ve been unsuccessful.
Who the sitter is though, isn’t what’s important or indeed why I have it in my studio. I have it in my studio to remind myself every day what truly beautiful photography is, what greatness was achieved, so long ago, using film and traditional printing methods, what gorgeous light was captured and what incredible detail was achieved… the whole thing is massively inspirational.
Even with today’s modern cameras, lighting and editing software, getting a result as subtle and impressive as this is still an incredibly difficult challenge, one I continually aspire to.
The firm of Elliott & Fry was founded at 55 Baker Street, London in 1863 by Joseph John Elliott (1835-1903) and Clarence Edmund Fry (1840-1897). For a century the firm's core business was taking and publishing photographs of the Victorian public and social, artistic, scientific and political luminaries. In the 1880s the company operated three studios and large storage facilities for negatives, with a printing works at Barnet.
In the early 1940s the storage facility was bombed and most of the early negatives were destroyed. The National Portrait Gallery owns all of the surviving negatives.
Some of the high profile portraits by Elliott & Fry include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Baden-Powell and Oscar Wilde. My mysterious portrait is definitely not a famous person, but he certainly was a wealthy person – from the high quality of his clothes, to his neatly groomed hair and the simple fact that a portrait of this quality and indeed this size (it’s huge!) would have been staggeringly expensive.
Whoever he is, I’m very grateful to him, his decision to be photographed by Elliott & Fry has given me a lovely historical artefact but more importantly an inspirational photo which I appreciate and adore every single day.