British photographic history

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Err, not that Addams family. But three generations of photographers, starting with Walton Adams (1842-1934) co-inventor of the dry-plate process, followed by Marcus (1875-1959), photographer to two generations of the royal children between 1926 and 1956, and finally, Gilbert (1906-1996) a specialist in ballet photography.

An on-going exhibition which opened earlier this year (with another commencing in 2011) showcases the royal portraiture of Marcus Adams. Marcus opened his Children’s Studio on Dover Street, London in 1920. He quickly established a reputation as a leading child photographer through his ability to capture the personality of his young sitters, who included the children of the writers A.A. Milne and Agatha Christie. Adams wanted his subjects to feel completely at ease, believing that photography was ‘ninety-five per cent psychology and only five per cent mechanical’. The studio was filled with gadgets and toys, and had no visible equipment or dazzling lights. Instead, Adams built a special camera in the form of a toy cabinet, which he operated remotely while he moved about and talked to the children. As many as 200 photographs would be taken during a typical royal sitting, resulting in at least 50 successful images. A number of the portraits were kept by the Royal Family, some were published in newspapers and magazines, and others appeared on postcards, postage stamps, calendars, commemorative china, and even biscuit tins and jigsaw puzzles.

A book entitled 'Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer' has been published by the Royal Collection Publications to accompany this exhibition. (Just click on the Amazon link on the right to search for it.) Vintage prints from almost all the royal sittings are among the more than 150 photographs included in the book, and the 56 shown in the exhibition, many from the personal collection of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Details of both exhibitions can be found here and here.


Photos: Marcus Adams; Prince Charles by Marcus Adams bromide print, 1953

9 5/8 in. x 7 1/2 in. (244 mm x 191 mm) Purchased, 1980; Primary Collection, NPG P140(27);

Walton Adams is Reading's oldest commercial and family photographic business established since 1867.

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