William Davies was a professional photographer who established a number of studios in Melbourne between the 1858 and 1882. Davies was probably born in Manchester, UK and arrived in Melbourne around 1855. He began his photographic career in Australia in the employ of his friend, Walter Woodbury (inventor of the Woodburytype) and the Meade Brothers. Davies purchased the Meades’ business in 1858 and opened his own studio, William Davies and Co at 98 Bourke St, specialising in albumen photography of individuals and local premises. This address was opposite the Theatre Royal, and Davies took advantage of the proximity by selling cartes de visite of famous actors, actresses and opera singers. In 1861, Davies’s firm showed a number of portraits and images of Melbourne and Fitzroy buildings, often with the proprietors standing outside, at the Victorian Exhibition, and then at the 1862 London International Exhibition, where they received honourable mention. Along with actresses and buildings, the company also specialised in carte de visite portraits of Protestant clergymen posed in the act of writing their sermons. From 1862 to 1870 the firm was located at 94A Bourke St, where they shared the premises with the photographers Cox and Luckin.
A carte de visite is a stiff card of about 10 x 6.4 cm, with an attached paper photograph, invented in 1854 by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disderi. They were introduced into Australia in 1859 by William Blackwood with albums arriving in 1860, aiding the collection and distribution of multiple cartes. Cartes were usually portraits and were made by the millions worldwide. Multi-lens, or ‘multiplying’ cameras were introduced in the 1860s, which were capable of producing from 2 to 32 images in quick succession, dramatically increasing the number of cartes de visite that could be made from a single photographic plate. They were easily reproduced by making paper contact prints from the glass plates, which were then cut and pasted to card.
carte de visite
5.9 x 8.5 cm image; 6.2 x 10.1 cm mount card
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display