An extraordinary and haunting series of 80 photographic portraits of World War I soldiers from NSW is on display at Cessnock Library until Thursday, March 17.
Produced as part of the State Library’s World War I centenary regional program, Portraits of War: The Crown Studios Project reveals the fascinating story behind the creation of the portraits.
It delivers a moving experience that bears witness to the individual faces of Australian soldiers – young and old – who served their country.
In 1918 soldiers all across NSW were invited to have their portraits taken in Sydney before embarking overseas for what was to be a most deadly conflict far from home.
During this ambitious project, a collection of more than 1600 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).
“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,” exhibition curator Louise Tegart said.
Unfortunately, the project was never completed. A 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 July 1, 1919.
“Thanks to the tenacity and support of William Ifould, the principal librarian at the time, the collection of portraits was secured for future generations,” Ms Tegart said.
The State Library has released a collection of the portraits on Flickr Commons – New South Wales Servicemen Portraits 1918-1919 – located here.
“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,” Ms Tegart said.
If Cessnock local government area 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, email email@example.com with your name, contact details and a link to the image.
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