During the public call out for our Street Photography exhibition an extraordinarily rare collection of street photography negatives came to light. The Ikon Studio negatives provide a fascinating visual narrative of the street photographer at work.

Although many street photography companies advertised that they kept their negatives indefinitely, very few negatives have survived. The enormous volume of rolls processed made it unlikely that negatives were kept for more than a few years, and when firms went out of business what remained was probably discarded. Remarkably, 127 rolls of film taken by Ikon Studio photographers have survived. Ikon Studio operated from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, selling prints from Her Majesty’s Arcade on Market Street. Each strip of 35mm film is a complete sequence of images taken, not just those purchased by the public. 

All of the 5000 Ikon Studio photos were shot between May and December 1950 in Martin Place, Sydney, and probably represent no more than ten days – or part days – of work. They were taken from a licenced street photography stand located outside the Prudential Building between Castlereagh and Elizabeth streets, and the backgrounds of the images offer glimpses of this bustling city location either looking up Martin Place towards Macquarie Street or down towards George Street. The images offers us a unique insight into how the street photographers worked as they repositioned themselves in response to the flow of pedestrians, and reveal the public’s varying responses to being photographed. 

Street photographers soon learned who was more likely to buy these candid photos. The best ‘marks’, according to one street photographer interviewed in 1951 by The Sun, were ‘young romantic couples’, followed by ‘doting mothers’, then ‘middle-aged women’ out for the day, servicemen, and families visiting from the country. The worst marks were ‘plain ordinary men’.

As yet the subjects in these photos (unless otherwise stated in the captions) are unidentified. Do you recognise yourself or someone you know?  Contact us at streetphotos@slm.com.au


Browse a selection of images from the Ikon Studio collection by clicking on any of the images below.

Arm in arm

A bustling city

Babes in arms

Brown paper packages

Family outings

Crowded footpaths

Groups of three

In uniform

Push prams

About the authors

Head and shoulders portrait of woman set against brick wall.

Anna Cossu

Curator

Inspired by wonderful and slightly eccentric history teachers and after her own foray as a teacher, Anna found herself drawn to the world of museums.

Portrait of woman against background of prickly pear foliage.

Holly Schulte

Curator

As Curator of Digital Assets, Holly combines her interests in photography, history and digital imaging technologies.

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