British photographic history

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Alan Elliott 1921-2020: A Life Well Lived

This awful year has taken another toll:  I am mourning the loss of a friend and mentor whom I never actually met face to face. Alan Elliott passed away on Oct. 30, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia, surrounded by family.  He was a remarkable 99 years old and still active in the photographic community until the Covid lockdown confined him to the Napier Street Aged Care Home.  He had participated in the Analogue Photography Group for the Melbourne Camera Club in 2019 and he missed interacting with family and friends.

Alan was a member of the Order of Australia, a Lifetime Member of the ARPS, a holder of the Fenton Medal from the UK RPS and a retired industrial chemist.  But to me, Alan was a knowledgeable mentor and friend as I researched the life, works and family of Walter Bentley Woodbury (1834-1885). Woodbury happens to be my Great Great Grandfather.  Alan answered my emails, sent me the transcripts of the “Woodbury Letters and Documents” in the keeping of the RPS which I didn’t know existed, and a copy of “Walter Woodbury: a Victorian Study” which he had written with other members of Victorian Chapter of the ARPS.  He answered my questions, directed me to sources, obtained permission for me to quote material, and in January, when he had to leave his home on Dorcas Street and move into the Aged Care Facility, he sent me his research notes on Woodbury.

I dedicated my recently completed book on Woodbury’s life and family, “Not White Enough”  which deals as much with the prejudice Woodbury and his family faced as with his inventions to Alan. (Woodbury had married Marie Olmeijer, a Javanese Eurasian woman, who was visibly biracial, and brought her to England when he needed to patent his Woodburytype process.)  I wish I could have placed a copy of the book in Alan’s hands, because without him, it wouldn’t exist.

It is rare in life to meet such a kind and generous person as Alan.  I will miss him.

Muriel Morris

Chilliwack, BC, Canada

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Comment by Marcel Safier on November 16, 2020 at 10:06

Hello Muriel, that is sad news. I used to visit Alan when I got down to Melbourne from Brisbane and we last met in September last year. Alan and I spent many hours discussing photographic history in his front room in Dorcas St, by email or via the phone over the years and I helped with research into Walter's life (you may recall, I have one of his award medals) and also Ludovico Hart. When Alan sent me the draft of his book on Hart, I did some digging and forwarded 50 pages of fresh research notes, which meant a substantial rewrite before he was happy to publish (much to the chagrin of some of the MCC members!). Alan's health became frail, his eyesight failed him and he never quite got over the death of his dear wife Shirley. I was fortunate to share my passion for photographic history with Alan and learn from a master and I will miss our exchanges over a tasty Indian meal. I would also like to obtain a copy of your book. Cheers! Marcel, Brisbane, Queensland

Comment by Alan Hodgson on November 12, 2020 at 15:47

Hi Muriel. I had a similar experience with Alan. Although we never met we corresponded and exchanged information on Orotone plates. We wrote an article together and it turned out shared a common background in chemistry. And I got an invite to his 99th birthday (online).

There are plans for a compendium of his published works in the Australian Chapter of the RPS. My personal obituary here.

Dr Alan Hodgson ASIS HonFRPS FInstP

President of The Royal Photographic Society

Read the President’s News

Comment by Gael Newton on November 10, 2020 at 0:27

Alan was indeed the very best model of the merging of passionate amateur researcher and the highest levels of scholarship but more important of the making accessible otherwise hard or forgotten information. A lovely ever helpful gentleman as well. I am very pleased his notes have gone to you how do we get a copy of your book?

Muriel do you have any W&P prints if not I have a few I would be very pleased to send you. Woodbury is still to have a wonderful monograph.

Gael

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