Archive for the ‘Dublin Studio Portraits’ Category


I bought this photograph because I love images of girls wearing glasses. Her cloche hat, tapestry/brocade coat and corsage epitomise 1920s cool. The photograph was taken in The Central Studio, 13 North Earl Street, Dublin. Little did I know, that the women who ran the studio were just as fascinating as the image.

Harriette E. Lavery is listed in the Thom’s directory as the studio’s occupant from 1918 until 1946. I located her family on the 1901 census where she was living in Belfast with her father, a photographer, thus demonstrating a link to the trade. However, my explorations became more interesting when I found a link to a site showing Harriette’s memorial card stating that she died in 1923 from anthrax poisoning! It appears that the forty-six year old widow contracted her illness during her imprisonment for Civil War Republican activities. Harriette was jailed alongside her daughter, Maynie (1901-1976), in Kilmainham Gaol and the North Dublin Union. Maynie was an active member of Cumann na mBan and her future husband, Ned Reid was imprisoned in Marlborough Prison during the same period. (For further details see Sinéad McCoole’s No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923, Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2003)

Maynie continued the business after her mother’s death but no change was made to the Thom’s listing. Over the twenty-seven years’ that the photographic studio was based at this address its neighbours included Keenan’s café, the Russell hairdressing saloon and the Maypole Dairy. At one stage, the Lavery family also ran a café at No.13 which they called ‘Dalriada.’ This was also the name of a hotel owned by Harriette’s maternal family at the seaside village of Howth, County Dublin.

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When I first started researching this oddly named studio, I thought that the American Ping Pong Studios were in some way related to the 1920s craze for table tennis! Upon further investigation, I discovered that a Ping Pong Studio was a type of basic photographic studio, usually located at a tourist attraction, which offered inexpensive and quickly produced portraits. A 1909 book by J. B. Schriever entitled ‘Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photograph’ outlines how to set one up. Other references refer to a business model which charged more for fancy borders and frames than for the actual photographs. 

The portrait itself is strong and I love her confident gaze at the camera. The beehive shaped toggles on her hat and the luxurious fur wrap are nice touches too.

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In the course of researching this post, I discovered that Dundrearies are long, full sideburns like those worn by the man in this photograph. They became popular in the 1860s and are named after the actor Edward A. Sothern who played the role of Lord Dundreary in Our American Cousin. Piccadilly weepers were another pretty similar style of mutton-chop sideburns. Both are great descriptive terms which have fallen out of use.

This portrait was taken by Frederick H. Mares, probably in the late 1860s or early 1870s, at his studio at 79 Grafton Street, Dublin. He moved from this location in 1875 to another building called The Grafton Studio, at 118 Grafton Street (opposite Trinity College).

The smiling child and the interaction between the sitters are not usual for studio portraits of the era. There is quite a lot going on in background too. Given the small size of the original image (2⅛ × 3½ inches) the tinting is actually quite well executed. The artist who painted the backdrop has cleverly left a break in the scenery into which the sitter could be positioned.

The patterned flooring is the same as that shown on a series of portraits from the studio held by the Minnesota Historical Society which date from the early 1870s.

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Ross1    Ross2

These glamorous portraits were taken by Ross Photographers of Dublin in the 1940s. The studio was set up in 1929 and is one of the few independent Irish businesses still operating on Grafton Street today. I really like their colourful yellow sign which brightens up the dull Dublin sky in the photo above. I also located advertisements for the studio in daily newspapers from the 1930s. Jason Bitner of Found magazine discovered an entire studio collection in LaPorte, Indiana and I am a fan of his book which was published by Princeton Architectural Press. A documentary film on the collection is also in production.  

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