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It was not until the 1850s, with the invention of the albumen print, that photographers were first able to create high-quality images that could be easily reproduced in large quantities at affordable prices. The wealthy and famous, along with the middle class, were now able to have their studio portrait taken by a professional photographer. These small portraits, known as cartes de visite, usually consisted of an albumen print on thin photographic paper, which was mounted on thicker card. They were designed to be held in the hand or housed in custom-made albums. Although small, humble objects, cartes de visite became enormously popular and were often traded among friends and visitors. The back of the carte de visite usually carried an advertisement for the photographer, giving his address to encourage further business.
While many photographers gravitated to the major cities, some were lured to regional towns to ply their trade, the locals eager to take advantage of their services. The portraits in this collection of cartes de visite are all from Brisbane or regional Queensland. They trace family relationships and social networks, and commemorate families and events. In a contemporary context, they can reveal unique information about early photographic, cultural, social and personal histories.
After practising as an amateur, Thomas Mathewson set up as a professional photographer in Toowoomba in 1861. In 1865 he worked his way through the Darling Downs, via Roma, St George and the Gwydir River, reaching Sydney by late 1867. Travelling northwards, he took photographs at Gympie (1868–72), Rockhampton, Bowen, Charters Towers and Townsville. Thomas’s brother Peter joined him in 1876 and the firm became Mathewson & Co until the 1890s, operating mainly from Queen Street, Brisbane, but making regular tours to country towns and rural districts.