British photographic history

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Malta: The Richard Ellis Archive 1862-1924

Many collectors would love to lay their hands on what is probably Malta's most precious photography collection. One of the biggest archives on the island, the Richard Ellis glass plate negatives number about 40,000, dating from between 1862, when the Englishman landed in Malta, to his death in 1924.

After almost 150 years, the name of Richard Ellis is still synonymous to photography. He was one of the first photographers in Malta, although at that time there was Orazio Agius, Preziosi and a few other Englishmen.

Richard Ellis ended up in Malta quite by chance in April 1861. He had studied photography in Paris, which was the hub of the emergent art, and came to Malta at the age of 19 with his adoptive parents, James Conroy and his wife Sara, as the family were caught up in the Garibaldian struggle. On settling in Malta, Mr Conroy opened a photo studio in Senglea and Richard Ellis acted as his assistant. Nine years later they opened a studio in Strait Street, Valletta, and in 1871 Mr Ellis left the Conroys and set up his own studio.

Apart from buildings and scenes of Malta, Mr Ellis took many photos of ships, crews and ongoing projects. His son, John, gave up a career in medicine and joined the business to help his father and produced what must be the first X-ray images taken in Malta in November 1896.

John's son, also called Richard, continued to run the business in 1931, after the death of his father. He continued to take photos just like his grandfather had done and saved the Ellis archive from devastation in World War II by moving the negatives to the safety of a Wardija home. The building in Valletta where the photographs had been stored was badly damaged.

The 261-page book, "Richard Ellis: The Photography Collection", contains over 200 photos of Valletta and Floriana, reproduced from the original glass plate negatives taken by Ellis, some of which are over 140 years old, and documents important aspects of Malta's social history, as well as the history of the Ellis family. Published in 2007, it was the first of three volumes.

According to the local artist-photographer, Patrick Fenech, there is an urgent need for a national photography museum as entire archives are being sold off abroad, one in particular was a collection of 500 photos dating back to the period between the world wars, including cameras and related paraphernalia, which was sold for only £200!

Mr Fenech has been researching The Ellis archive for three years and he claims he has not even gone through half the collection yet. His wish is to have the vast archives, including equipment and massive studio cameras, displayed – “if not in a national museum, in an Ellis Photography Museum!”

The full report can be found here, and some information on the Ellis family legacy here.

 

 

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Comment by PATRICK J FENECH on April 13, 2012 at 10:42

Hello Annuca.  Thanks for yr interest in the Richard Ellis Archives, Malta. Let me know if i can be of any help in yr research. Back from Florence where i spent most of the time in the Ainari Museum of Photography.  Also discovered some wonderful stereoscope photographs on Malta. Unfortunately they have no trace of the photographer.  Keep in touch. Warm regards.

Comment by Michael Wong on April 12, 2012 at 22:38

Annuca - haha. Best is to contact the BPH member, Patrick Fenech, who is the 'expert' on the archive. In case you were not aware, Vol IV of this book has recently been published which you can read about it here.

And don't forget about Dr Pritchard's post on the TV programme too. 

Comment by Michael Pritchard on April 12, 2012 at 18:31
Comment by Annuca on April 12, 2012 at 18:21

Wow - I am Maltese, and did my PhD looking at lifetime of photographs (albeit colour ones) and I never knew about this archive. I also see that I share my surname with the researcher there! Is the archive open for visits?

Comment by Michael Wong on February 17, 2011 at 18:56
Thanks, and welcome to the blog, Patrick!
I am sure you will be a really useful resource to all those BPH members wishing to research more into the RE archives or Malta-related photographic history. Thanks for your kind offer, and please do contribute to the posts/events etc. Hope to make it to Malta one day to view the collection.
Comment by PATRICK J FENECH on February 17, 2011 at 11:13
Mike, thanks for this blog. I have now become a member of the BPH which is an important site for my photography research. Should you need more info on the RE archive plse let me know.

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