Through a glass darkly
A star-gazing schoolmaster, a mourning widow, an immigrant farmer, a practical chemist, a defiant bushranger, an unidentified child and a trio of genteel young girls: they all feature in the earliest portrait photographs from the Sydney Living Museum’s collections. Dated from 1855 to 1867, these pictures were created using the daguerreotype and ambrotype processes, two of the earliest photographic formats invented. They are usually preserved under glass, gilt-framed in plush velvet-lined cases. They are fascinating but mysterious. The correct lighting and angle of view are required to clearly see a positive image on the mirror-like surface of the daguerreotype or to see through the reflective layers of the ambrotype. Without provenance it is often impossible to date the image or identify the sitter. Those who cherished the ‘likeness’ had no surface on which to inscribe.