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  • Title
    Freeman Studio, Sydney, studio portraits, 1855 -
  • Creator
  • Level of description
  • Date

    1855 -
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Physical Description
    Approximately 75,000 negatives - glass and film
    13 volumes and 1 folder of textual material

    William Freeman arrived from London in 1853 and worked at John Wheeler’s Sydney Photographic Rooms in Bridge Street. His brother James joined them in 1854 and the studio, which moved to George Street, advertised as Freeman Brothers and Wheeler.

    By early 1855, the company was simply Freeman Brothers and wealthy citizens visited Freeman’s Sydney Gallery of Photographic Art to have their daguerreotype portraits made. By 1856, the ambrotype, a new process on glass, which James Freeman had brought to the colony, became fashionable and Freeman was able exploit the faster medium.

    The 1860s saw a revolution in photography with the introduction of the mass produced carte-de-visite, a small paper photograph the size of a visiting card. For the first time, it was possible for the working class to be photographed.

    Freeman produced over 30,000 carte-de-visite negatives by 1870, but these early negatives were destroyed: the Library has no carte-de-visite negatives prior to 1875, although 18,000 exist after that date.

    Partnership with the noted English photographer Victor Prout in 1866 gave them additional status, and Freeman & Prout began to advertise as ‘photographers to their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales and His Excellency the Governor.’

    William and James Freeman returned to England in 1868, leaving the business in the hands of their staff. William came back to Sydney after the death of James in 1870 and continued to produce carte-de-visite and larger portraits from several premises along George Street.

    The studio passed into the hands of long time employee William Rufus George, soon after William Freeman retired around 1890.

    In 1893 Sydney photographers became embroiled in a price war brought about by an economic depression and declining custom. Freeman & Co. aimed at the upper end of the market, so a quarter of their photographs in the 1890s were expensive platinum prints. Mrs George, continuing a tradition from the 1860s, painted miniatures from photographs. William George’s son Alfred became proprietor by 1903.

    Harold Cazneaux joined Freeman & Co. in 1904 as an artist and become a photographic operator and later managing director. Cazneaux resigned in 1918 after an argument with owner Alfred George about ownership of his photographic work outside the studio. The actual authorship of photographs produced in a studio system is difficult to determine. Freeman employed a team of photographers in the studio, who mostly remain anonymous. As late as 1969, staff signed prints with a facsimile of the Freeman signature.

    World War I saw a boom in formal portraits of soldiers, although this was not Freeman’s normal market. Weddings provided much of their business and still represent an important part of studio portraiture today.

    Valentine Waller, who had bought into the studio in 1924, became sole proprietor in 1933. Waller had a particular interest in early photography and much of Freeman & Co. practice became the copying of old photographs and their restoration.

    In 1968, William Pooley bought the business. After nearly 100 years in George Street, Freeman Studios moved around the corner into Hunter Street. Within three years they were back in George Street, opposite Wynyard Station. Pooley and his partner Stuart Brown continued the firm’s tradition of portraiture and copy/restoration work, introducing colour photography in 1970.

    In 1971 Rick Sherwin joined the firm, becoming a partner in 1973. He began photographing weddings off site, although the mainstay of the business remained portraiture and the copying of client’s old photographs. Sherwin left in 1982 and was bought out two years later.

    In 1989 Freeman Studio passed to Mofid Guirguis and in 1998 moved to its present location at 193-195 Clarence Street. Digital photography was introduced to the studio in 2003.
  • Collection history
    In 1954, Valentine Waller, then owner of Freeman Studios, donated 400 early glass plate negatives and modern prints made from them to the Mitchell Library. This was the start of the Freeman Collection at the State Library of New South Wales. When William Pooley bought the business in 1968, he donated a further 60,000 portrait negatives and the sitters' books, detailing the names of the subjects and the date of each photograph. Further donations and purchases over the years have swelled the number of negatives to well over 100,000.
  • Scope and Content
    Predominantly studio portraits from Freeman’s Studios.
    The collection comprises cartes de visite and cabinet glass and film negatives and photographic prints and some reproductions for postcards and calendars.
    Textual records include customer and sitter registers of names, some correspondence and internal office memoranda.

    Collection comprises:
    Freeman Studio glass negatives, ca.1877-1930
    Freeman Studio registers and indexes, 1880-1945, 1965-1975
    Freeman Studio enlargements cartes-de-visite and cabinet prints from glass and safety films, and prints used in postcards and calendars, 1880-1945
    Freeman Studio, Sydney, photographic portraits, ca. 1890-1929
    Freeman Studios, cabinet glass and acetate film negatives, ca. 1925-1945
    Freeman Studio cartes-de visite 1876-1915, and cabinet portraits, ca. 1925-1945
    Freeman Studio miscellaneous ephemera and correspondence 1942-1960

    Freeman Studios, Sydney : photographic portraits, chiefly ca. 1875-1880 / printed in early 195-
    Presented by Freeman Studios, February 1954 / Transferred from P1 file, April 2010

    Freeman Studio, Sydney : glass and film negatives, customer registers and indexes, selected prints, miscellaneous correspondence and ephemera, ca. 1875-1989
    Presented by Freeman Studios between 1953 and 1984

    Further Freeman Studio, Sydney, photographic portraits, ca. 1890-1929
    Presented by Beth Pooley, 1999

    Further Freeman Studio glass negatives, ca. 1877-1930
    Purchased from Freeman’s Studio, May 2000.
  • System of arrangement
    Alphabetical by name of sitter, or by subject, within chronological divisions.¶See also notes at PXA 337 for description of the indexing process.
  • Future Additions
    Further photographs and registers are expected.
  • Finding Aids
    A microfiche index to names in the Freeman Collection covering the periods 1875 to 1919 and 1926 to1935 is held in the Mitchell Library Reading Room at PXA 337 -
  • General note

    The arrival in Sydney of William Freeman in 1853 and his brother James the following year marked the beginning of Australia's oldest continuously operating photographic studio.
    Dates, studio names & addresses:
    1854-55. Freeman & Wheeler. 456 George St
    1855-60. Freeman Bros. 231 (392) George St
    1860-67. Freeman Bros & Victor A Prout. 392 George St
    1867-68. Freeman & Prout. 137 (141) Castlereagh St
    1868-72. Freeman, late Dalton. 320 George St
    1873-79. Freeman, late Oswald Allen. 360 George St
    1880-90. Freeman Bros. 346 George St
    1890. Freeman Bros. 316 George St
    1891-1900. W R George manager. 318 George St
    1900-46. Freeman & Co. 318 George St
    1947-67. Freeman Studios. 318 George St
    1968-71. Freeman Studio. 3 Hunter St
    1972-98. Freeman Studios. 300 George St
    1998- . Freeman Studio. 193-195 Clarence St
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