Port Adelaide was a defiantly working class suburb in the first half of the 20th century.
Wharfies lived from week to week, reliant on the competitive pick-up system to feed their families. Nevertheless local families marked rites of passage – weddings, births, graduations, first communions, sons leaving for war, and sporting victories― by forking out for a pricey portrait at Mr Bond’s Studio.
Albert Ernest Bond was listed as photographer in Commercial Road, Port Adelaide, from 1901. In the 1930s the studio shifted to St Vincent Street. His subjects posed, often dolled up in their Sunday best, in front of his studio backdrop: a painted canvas depicting a window opening on to rolling hills and woodland with plush velvet curtains that could be drawn or opened.
The South Australian Maritime Museum owns the Bond Studio Glass Negatives collection – 1500 portraits on glass taken from the turn of the century to the 1930s. It provides a beautiful and often moving snapshot of a community at a specific moment in time. Each portrait bears the surname of the sitter only – although many of these names are still familiar in Port Adelaide. All the photos have been digitised and often serendipitously, the curators glean a little more information on their subjects.
Several capture athletic young men and women clad in saggy woollen one pieces posting next to an ornate shield. This trophy, awarded to the winners of the gruelling long distance Swim Through the Port, is in our collection.
One image labelled Manual, of a glamorous young woman in a dance costume, featured on the front of a History Festival program. The sitter’s daughter saw the photos and contacted us with more information on the story of her mum Gladys Sheehan who was fostered out to the Greek Manual family in 1923 when she was five. Gladys assisted Harold, one of the brothers, to teach ballroom dancing.
It seems Mr Bond had a stash of fancy dress costumes in the studio as many of his child sitters pose in Rosella and Bryant and May brand boxes, gumnut costumes, and dressed as Mexican bandits and cowboys.
In another portrait, a young boy poses awkwardly with his ventriloquist doll (see below).
An email from someone who had glimpsed the portrait online suggested that as an adult Cliff Howe eventually made a business of ventriloquism. Sure enough, we turned up Cliff and his doll “Jimmy’s” s calling card at the National Museum, with his tagline “ Yours for Mirth” (see the main picture).
This Sunday (May 21) the South Australian Maritime Museum hosts ‘The Retro Lens: vintage photography festival’ – a day of workshops and activities celebrating all things analogue. Kids can hunt for Mr Bond’s portraits hidden in businesses throughout the Port and dress up in our vintage clothes, pose against his recreated studio back drop and take home some snapshots from our photo booth.
For full details of the program go here. You can find out more about the Bond Studio glass negatives collection here.
Lindl Lawton is Curator at the SA Maritime Museum.
Time and place is a series about historic places, people and objects in South Australia, brought to you by a partnership of InDaily and the History Trust of South Australia.
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