Local face of World War One on show at Wollondilly Library Service

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Local face of World War One on show at Wollondilly Library Service

Posted on: 31.10.2016

An extraordinary and haunting series of 80 portraits of World War One soldiers from NSW, selected from the State Library’s photographic collection, will go on show in a free display at the Wollondilly Library Service (Picton) from 14th November to the 26th.

Produced as part of the State Library’s WWI centenary regional program, the “Portraits of War: The Crown Studios Project” travelling display reveals the fascinating story behind the creation of the portraits and delivers a moving experience that bears witness to the individual faces of Australian soldiers, both young and old, who served their country.

In 1918 soldiers all across NSW were invited to have their portraits taken in Sydney by the leading photographic studio of the time, Crown Street Studios, before embarking overseas for what was to be a most deadly conflict far from home.

During this ambitious project, initiated by Sydney’s Crown Studios’ proprietor Mark Blow, a collection of over 1,600 portraits were either taken of soldiers or copied from existing images provided by family members, and this collection was subsequently donated to the Mitchell Library [now part of the State Library].

Exhibition curator Louise Tegart said “the information on the back of each print is just as moving as the portraits themselves with personal details handwritten, including whether soldiers made it home or not.”

Unfortunately, the project was never completed. A damaging fire at the Studio in December 1918 hindered the collection process and while copies of the portraits were protected in a fireproof safe, the Studio did not re-open again until 1 July 1919.

“The collection of portraits provide a rare insight into the lives of the soldiers of World War I. Viewing them produces a feeling that you are sharing that moment in time with them and can see the emotions held when that photo was taken,” said Ally Dench, Executive Director Community Services & Corporate Support.

“It is an incredible honour to house this collection at the Library and we anticipate that it will boost tourism in the area as we will have people visit Wollondilly from out of the area to view the collection.”

“Thanks to the tenacity and support of William Ifould, the Principal Librarian at the time, the collection of portraits was secured for future generations,” said Ms Tegart.

The State Library has released a collection of the portraits on Flickr Commons – New South Wales Servicemen Portraits 1918-1919 – located here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/sets/72157644355448247/

“The portraits capture the faces of men of all ages set against different backgrounds and sadly, it could be the only photograph families had of their sons, brothers or uncles,” said Ms Tegart.

If Wollondilly Shire residents discover a family member on the State Library’s New South Wales Servicemen Portraits Flickr set, the Library will provide a digital file of the portrait free of charge. To secure a digital print simply email media@sl.nsw.gov.au with your name, contact details and a link to the image.