Crowd Source is a fantastic exhibition currently on in the upstairs galleries at the State Library of NSW.

Arthur Syer, 1900 by his brother the artist Walter Syer (MLc035680001t)
Arthur Syer, 1900 by his brother the artist Walter Syer (MLc035680001t)

The photos on display are part of the collection of a street photographer in Sydney named Arthur K Syer, who worked in the late 1880s and 1890s.  Syer’s photos on display are part of a series he took for his friend, the illustrator Phil May.

A band gets ready to march, Sydney, photo by Syer (ML a844018r)
A band gets ready to march, Sydney, photo by Syer (ML a844018r)

The images were taken with a small, handheld, concealed camera, commonly called a detective camera.  The camera, made possible through the invention of daylight loading roll film and Kodak cameras, allowed Syer to photograph people in the street going about their business without them knowing about it.  From these, May could then make life sketches for his work in the Bulletin and other publications.  It was a brief moment in time when photography was just a tool in the artists employ, rather than the main source of magazine illustration.

Syer’s photos capture Sydney siders at the races, buying fruit at Circular Quay, running along besides marching bands, buying vegetables from Chinese hawkers, chatting to their neighbours, getting a horse cab, watching passers-by pass by and all manner of day-to-day stuff.

It’s a fascinating glimpse of Sydney in the late nineteenth century just going about its business.

It’s free and on until 18 August.  Check it out.

You can also follow Arthur on Instagram.

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