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John Deazeley’s backdrop

Saturday 18 May 2013

Here’s an object that tickles my interest in three branches of history​—​photography, lighthouses, and the region where I live.

It’s a cabinet photograph made in the 1880s by John Deazeley, a photographer with a studio in Queen Street, Brisbane. Queen Street was, and still is, the main com­mer­cial street in the city. Three other Brisbane photographers had Queen Street studios then​—​Thomas Mathew­son, Albert Lomer, and Eddie Hutchison.

The photo shows a young woman lounging on a sheepskin rug draped with leaves, as if at a sea­side picnic. She’s wearing a dress with many ruffles, and holding a dainty basket. It’s a pleasing photograph, and a departure from the usual upright Victorian pose with curtains, columns and overstuffed chairs. The back­ground is a painted sea­scape with waves breaking on a rocky shore, a cloudy sky, and a schooner on the horizon. In the middle distance is a headland with a lighthouse. I’m guessing it rep­re­sents Cape Moreton, a fondly remembered landmark for im­mi­grants arriving in Brisbane. Perhaps John Deazeley chose to have this backdrop painted to locate his subjects in their new place.

The back of the photo reveals another local connection​—​in fine print, the name of the firm that printed the card. Watson, Fer­guson & Co was a big business in Brisbane in the 1880s​—​a lithographic and letterpress printer, a book seller and importer, a sta­tio­nery retailer and manufacturer, a bookbinder.

Of the four Queen Street photographers, only Deazeley went to the local printer for his carte-de-visite and cabinet cards. The others ordered theirs from Marion & Co of Paris and London.

John Deazeley, cabinet portrait of an unidentified woman, c1885.

filed under Lighthouses + Photography

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