February 20: A photograph of a photographer taking a photograph on this day in 1864.
The photographer in our picture is comfortably and warmly dressed for the last of an Irish late winter or early spring (there’s plenty of foliage); this is that turning point in the year. He stands in his bright-polished shoes on a patchy lawn outside Clonbrock House, sixty kilometres from Galway and in the heart of green Ireland. He is an Irish peer and a nobleman of the Dutch aristocracy. Thirty year old Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench (1834- 1891), born in Dublin, Ireland, 4th Earl of Clancarty, 3rd Marquess of Heusden, was styled Viscount Dunlo between 1837 and 1872.
He was born in 1834, just as Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) were beginning to have success in making the first photographs.
Here he is using his stereo camera, then a quite novel, trend-setting instrument. Sir David Brewster (1781–1868) had developed a lens based refracting stereoscope, a portable improvement on the 1833 mirror system announced in 1838 by Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875) and produced in 1849 what would be the template for stereo cameras and viewers thenceforth. It was in the early 1850s that Achille Quinet (1831–1907) developed the kind of twin lens camera that Dunlo is using, which was patented and first distributed in 1856 by John Benjamin Dancer (1812–1887).
The binocular camera had two lenses with focal lengths of 108mm up to 140mm; relatively short because the image size was small. They were mounted in a panel in front of a divider in the rear box to prevent overlapping of the two images. The twin pictures had to be transposed after being printed before being mounted on card. The lenses on the wet plate models had to be uncapped separately until a central shutter was developed.
Stereoscopes had gained international recognition at the Great Exhibition of 1851 where Queen Victoria was greatly impressed by the stereographic equipment displayed by the pioneering French photographer, Jules Duboscq (1817–1886). With her enthusiasm and seal of approval, their popularity boomed, so much so that by 1856, more than half a million stereo viewers had been sold.
Trench’s camera looks remarkably similar. He is holding two lens caps and appears to be photographing the other photographer. The length of the exposure for this picture of him, even at a fairly wide aperture with shallow depth of field (note the soft focus background), is evident in the flapping of his dark cloth which is draped over his camera. The stereo camera itself would require much less time, being a smaller format.
But what is he doing? He doesn’t look in the direction in which he is shooting, but instead seems to regard something out of frame to the right and slightly above. Is he referring to a clock in a tower to time his exposure? Or is he watching someone else with a timepiece for a signal to replace the lens caps?
There is a second photograph (or fourth, if we count our unknown photographer’s images of this him, as we should) being taken by Trench.
Trench is unmarried in this image. Two years later on 29 November he is to marry Lady Adeliza Georgiana Hervey (left), born in Ickworth, Suffolk and daughter of Frederick William Hervey, 2nd Marquess of Bristol and Lady Katherine Isabella Manners. They had three children.
For the moment he is a young and no doubt very eligible bachelor, photographing three fine Irish-looking lasses at their home. Their personalities come across as being quite different, but all have a family resemblance in the determined turn of the jaw and slight underbite. It’s quite a cool day; they’re cozily rugged up.
The three sisters Alice Elizabeth (Congreve),
Caroline Anastasia and Georgiana Caroline appear to be a little distracted, or has Trench asked them to look in the direction of the other photographer while he pretends to take the group portrait?
A clue to the identity of that photographer is in this picture, taken the following year; it may be Luke Gerald Dillon (1834–1917), the same age as Trench, and a keen amateur as, were other members of the Dillon family. With his sister Augusta Caroline Dillon (1839-1928), together they photograph a grand ornate gilt mantle mirror. She holds the lens cap of a large format camera, which looks to be around 10″ x 12″, in readiness, as he times the shot on his pocket watch.
Given his status as a visiting bachelor, Trench and the three sisters are being watched over, from a window above, by what appears to be a female form, judging by the slighter shoulders of the silhouette under the reflections of the trees and behind an indoor plant in the large glass pane. This kind of ‘picture in a picture’ is now possible in this age of glass, wet plate photography and the Crystal Palace.
Another image of Clonbrock House lets us stand back for the whole scene. Here, quite possibly, are the Dillon sisters again, in spring of the same year, on the steps of the main entrance to Clonbrock House (Trench was photographing at another entrance at one of the wings of the house).
Their mother, Lady Clonbrock was to die at Clonbrock that December, aged 59, when another family group portrait was taken of the sisters and their father and friends in mourning dress. The empty cane garden chair represents her absence.
Clonbrock House itself when Trench was photographing there was but 80 years old, having been built in the 1780s. In 1786 Clonbrock was the seat of R. Dillon. In 1837 Lewis recorded it as the seat of Lord Clonbrock. In 1906 it was valued at £135. The house was badly damaged by fire in the 1980s and leaving only one wing inhabited. It has now been restored, using the Dillon photographs as reference for reconstruction.
All vintage photographs in this post are from the extensive Clonbrock Photographic Collection at the National Library of Ireland in which you may discover more about this family and their photographic enterprises.