[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LXVI | By Viveka Hansen]

Whitby photographs depicting textiles and clothing can be traced back to the 1860s, but there is evidence suggesting that a photographic portrait studio was introduced already in 1848 via local advertisements in the 1856 Whitby Gazette – describing that the Mr W. Stonehouse’s business had been active ‘for a period of eight years’. This case study will briefly look in to his studio and the successor J. Waller who on Saturday 24 June in 1866 noticed ‘The Newly erected studio…’ at Pier Portrait Rooms and according to advertisements this man continued his photographic work up to 1880. The photographic collection of Whitby Museum also includes quite a substantial number of portraits from these early photographers which in this post will be illustrated with two examples. 

A well-off young man depicted by J. Waller ‘Miniature painter & Photographer Pier Portrait Rooms Whitby’ during the 1870s. The main new development in male fashion at the time was a shorter jacket than before, while trousers made of different material which contrasted with the dark upper garment had already been common place for at least ten years. The colourful waistcoats with a variety of woven or printed patterns of the 1840s-1860s also became less popular during the last decades of the century. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Photographic Collection).

A young man depicted by J. Waller ‘Miniature painter & Photographer Pier Portrait Rooms Whitby’ during the 1870s. The main new development in male fashion at the time was a shorter jacket than before, while trousers made of different material which contrasted with the dark upper garment had already been common place for at least ten years. The colourful waistcoats with a variety of woven or printed patterns of the 1840s-1860s also became less popular during the last decades of the century. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Photographic Collection).

The earliest photographs are an important first-hand source for textile research, but a certain amount of caution is necessary before drawing conclusions from them since studio portraits were in particular always carefully posed down to the last detail and often retouched. Portrait photographs were developed from the old tradition for painted portraits, the difference being that the invention of photography now made it possible for ever more people to be able to afford to immortalise themselves and their families. Portrait painters had often portrayed their subjects as more beautiful than they really were, and the same tradition lived on in Victorian studio photographs. It was vital to choose poses and expressions to show the subject’s most attractive sides and most desirable character traits in the best possible light and backgrounds. Accessories could be used to draw attention to the subject’s social status or station in society.

Advertisement in Whitby Gazette, June 1870 by J. Waller, Photographer at Pier Portrait Rooms in Whitby (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

Advertisement in Whitby Gazette, June 1870 by J. Waller, Photographer at Pier Portrait Rooms in Whitby (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

Advertisement in Whitby Gazette by the same J. Waller, still in his business at the same address in June 1875. What can be understood from his regular notices, he continued up to 1880 with his Portrait workshop at this desirable position, close to the seaside and the still rather newly-built hotels in the West Cliff area. (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

Advertisement in Whitby Gazette by the same J. Waller, still in his business at the same address in June 1875. What can be understood from his regular notices, he continued up to 1880 with his Portrait workshop at this desirable position, close to the seaside and the still rather newly-built hotels in the West Cliff area. (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

The predecessor William Stonehouse was active in the period from 1848 to circa 1870, at three locations in Whitby. First at Church Street followed by the same Pier Room which Mr Waller took over in 1866 and finally at Khyber Pass – both the latter addresses situated close to the seaside. Stonehouse’s advertisement from July 3rd in 1856 also gives several enlightening details about his business:

‘Photographic Portraits Taken Daily By

Mr W. Stonehouse Church Street

W.S. has practised the Photographic Art in Whitby 

for a period of eight year, and having directed especial

attention to Collodion and Calotype Portraits, he ventures

to assert that his pictures will be found to possess a brilliancy 

of tone, and minuteness of detail not surpassed by

the first class London Photographs.

A great reduction to the price of Photographic materials

together with the facility with which Collodion pictures

are produced, enables Mr. Stonehouse to make a 

corresponding reduction in the price of his miniatures.

Coloured Portrait in Morocco Case, 2s. 6d.’

A representative picture taken in 1866 by the photographer W. Stonehouse, The Pier Portrait Rooms, Whitby. This lady is dressed in a dark coloured satin dress decorated with broad velvet ribbons. A dress of this sort required the hand of a professional dressmaker to achieve perfection in cut and sewing. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Photographic Collection).

A representative picture taken in 1866 by the photographer W. Stonehouse, The Pier Portrait Rooms, Whitby. This lady is dressed in a dark coloured satin dress decorated with broad velvet ribbons. A dress of this sort required the hand of a professional dressmaker to achieve perfection in cut and sewing. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Photographic Collection).

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Sources:

  • Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 – A lively coastal town between the North Sea and North York Moors’, London & Whitby 2015. For full list of Notes & Bibliography, pp 404-423. (Additionally: Research material from the period 2006-2014, including surplus photographs and various facts not possible to fit into the book).
  • Whitby Gazette, 1855-1885 (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive).

(The monograph The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 is available here: The IK Foundation)

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Early Photographic Portraits & Victorian Advertising’, TEXTILIS (August 2, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)