British photographic history

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James A. Sinclair : biographical information sought

I am researching some photographs by the British camera manufacturer and dealer James A. Sinclair, FRPS. (d.1940).  A great deal seems to be known about his famous cameras; very little about himself.   It may well be that his life is more familiar to specialists in cameras and the camera industry than to specialists in photographs themselves.  I suspect, for example, that as an eminent dealer in the heart of London – and as the author of distinguished how-to books – Sinclair may well have had extensive correspondence with amateur photographers; but I have found no vestige of it so far. 

If members have come across references to this once-eminent person in photographic circles, I would be glad if they would let me know.

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Comment by Christopher Wallen on April 6, 2020 at 15:15

I would have thought that a simpler explanation was that the sitter's attire was merely a studio prop.  However, as you suggest, we are both in the realms of speculation.

Comment by Francis Hodgson on April 6, 2020 at 12:09

Thank you - and to all commenters here for these helpful additions. This project rather stalled, but Sinclair remains a fascination of mine and maybe I ought to write a little piece simply to bring more like this to the surface. He seems to have had a processing factory in Brixton at one time, for example, of which I was never able to find out very much at all. A lot of Googling leads to another photographic James Sinclair, the 14th Earl of Caithness, if I remember rightly, who died in the 1880s, author of wonderful studies of trees but nothing to do with 'my' James Sinclair. 

In respect of the splendid portrait of Ethel Flogdell sent here, I do wonder a little at her raiment.  She is shown in what seems a dressing-gown of vaguely Oriental inspiration - surely not appropriate wear if she was an employee and only met with her employer in the context of her work. Fun to speculate - and that, I'm afraid, is mostly what I'm still doing about Mr. Sinclair. 

Comment by Christopher Wallen on April 6, 2020 at 10:43

Hi  Francis

I realise that you posted this a long time ago but I have only just seen it.  I wonder if you still have an interest in James Sinclair?  I cannot provide information on your actual enquiry but I do have a photograph and a little snippet for you.

My mother told me that her aunt Ethel Flogdell (1884-1971) worked for Sinclair and, in the 1911 Census, her occupation was recorded as 'developer and printer'.  The portrait is of her, by Sinclair, and I would guess was taken around that time or a little earlier.

I became interested in photography in about 1960 and, I remember, as a schoolboy of limited financial means, wandering around the West End gluing my nose to shop windows looking at cameras that were far beyond my means.  Sinclair's shop in Whitehall was usually my first stop.  It didn't seem to carry a large range but I do recall that there were some esoteric items such as brushes, etc for the bromoil process.

I hope that this may be of some interest to you. 

Comment by Ken Jacobson on November 26, 2015 at 17:39

Hi, Francis. I wrote a tiny biography of Sinclair in my book on Orientalist photography. I don't expect there would be anything very new there. We had and might still have some small but nice quality photogravures signed by Sinclair. They are typically pictorialist works but are not particularly saccharine.

Let me know if any of this sounds like it might be useful.



Comment by Mike Fisher on November 16, 2015 at 20:46

I guess you may have seen the James A Sinclair listing on the "Historic Camera" see here.  Tom Kowach of HC has a wealth of info, if you haven't had a word with Tom.

Comment by Michael Pritchard on November 16, 2015 at 19:12

Let me know if you want his obituary from the RPS Journal. 

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