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Directories of Early Photographers - Using the Directories For Dating Photographs

It’s easy enough to see the possible use of trade directory information in dating old photographs. A record of entries over a period of years can show just when a photographer moved studios, took on additional premises, set up in a new partnership, or retired to make way for a son. Thus the form of a firm's name and address on the mount of a photograph can be tied in with the specific period when that combination of details held good.

In practice, things are often not so easy. Sometimes a photographer stuck resolutely to the same studio year after year. But changes in studio arrangements were quite common, and these changes can provide useful dating clues. Caution is nevertheless necessary. There may be a four-year gap between directories; directories by different publishers may follow slightly different conventions; and some directories may have had a longer time lag between the collection and the publication of material than others. Information was generally assembled well in advance, so a studio could be established a year or two before its name first appeared in print, and it could change or cease trading a while before or after its last directory appearance.

In spite of all this, trade directory information can be very helpful, and the way in which it is presented here needs some explanation. A standard approach to such listings has yet to be established, but it seems desirable that the reader should know the source of information and should be able to question editorial conclusions. The policy with these lists, therefore, is to err on the side of thoroughness. The results can be pedantic, and some slavishly noted slight variations might be of no significance. But at least the user is given all the evidence and has the opportunity to make a judgement and to know better. Added notes suggest ways of interpreting confusing evidence, but the evidence remains on show for the researcher to make the final decision.

These additional notes also serve a variety of other purposes. As well as commenting on problems of evidence, they sometimes pass on additional background information that the directories provide. (In the 1860s especially, with the growth of cartomania, there was a bandwagon effect, whereby newcomers often ventured into photography, whilst keeping an earlier occupation on the go. Thus two services might be offered under one roof, and it might be possible to buy a pie as well as a picture, or to have one’s eyes tested as well as one’s photograph taken. Information about diversified careers is often given in trade directories.) Other notes are based on information from the mounts of actual photographs, from census returns or from works that are listed in Sources and conventions and acknowledged in the text. Some of this extra material may give further help towards dating. Much of it, though, is included for its incidental interest. (A fragment of background or biography seems a reasonable diversion to slip into lists that could be considered higher in worthiness than in entertainment value.)

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www.earlyphotostudios.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers operating 1840-1916, in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland and Suffolk. The original site was researched and written in 2011 by the late Robert Pols, photo historian and author, and this re-constructed site is dedicated to his memory.

This page was last modified: 04 September 2022, 15:37

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