Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
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!”
Add a Comment