19th century photographers in Madeira and elsewhere

ALMOST WITHOUT REALISING IT, it seems that I have developed an interest in 19th century photographers. A visit to the Isle of Wight in 2022 led to me becoming interested in the life and work of the pioneer of artistic photography – Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). She lived at Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight between 1860 and 1875. It was here that she produced most of her highly creative photographs. I have written a book about her: “Between Two Islands: Julia Margaret Cameron and Her Circle”.

Five years after Julia left the Isle of Wight, my great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg travelled from the German Empire to King Williams Town (‘KWT’) in the eastern part of what was then the southern African Cape Colony. Aged 18, he arrived there with his future brother-in-law Jakob Rindl. The two men set up what became a successful commercial photographic studio in the town, which they might have chosen because many of its European inhabitants were German speakers. Although Jakob continued the studio after 1885, Franz diversified his activities by founding soap, match, and candle factories in the town.

I believe that despite becoming a successful industrialist and politician, Franz continued taking photographs as a hobby. Because of his success in KWT, other members of his family came out from Germany to work in the town. Amongst these were Franz’s nieces, Anna and Else Ginsberg. These two intrepid ladies founded a photographic studio in KWT. They were the first ladies to have opened a commercial photography studio in what was to become South Africa. Of interest, amongst each of the generations of Franz and Jakob’s descendants, there have been keen photographers including myself,

In May 2023, when we visited the city of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira, we came across a museum that helped to bring 19th century photography back to life for me. It is the Museu de Fotografia da Madeira in Rua de Carriera. The museum is housed in what had been the premises of the commercial studio founded by Vicente Gomes da Silva (1827-1906) in 1863. The studio remained in business until 1978. In 1982, the Regional Government of Madeira purchased the building – Atelier Vicente – and used it for a museum of photography.  

Vicente Gomes da Silva became interested in photography in 1856, and by 1859 he was recorded as an amateur photographer in a local newspaper published in the June of that year. By 1863, he had made photography his business venture, and moved into the Atelier on Rua Carriera in 1865. A year later, he was appointed photographer to the Empress of Austria. His son, also called Vicente, continued the business, and was appointed photographer to the Portuguese royal family in 1903.

The museum is interesting not only because it exhibits the sorts of cameras that must have been used by my ancestors in South Africa and by Julia Margaret Cameron, but also because features that were characteristic of early photographic studios have been maintained and explained. The Atelier was opened before there was electricity on Madeira. The main studio area was arranged so that it was lit by northern light that filtered through skylights and curtains designed to make it a homogenous light source. Part of the studio’s laboratories had skylights that allowed ingress of sunlight that was required at various stages of preparing the photographic plates. At the back of the studio, there are a set of sliding panels, each painted with a different scene that could be used as a background to the people being photographed. The desired scene could be slid out behind the area where the subjects posed for their pictures. In other rooms, there are exhibits illustrating the history of cameras and photographic processes, as well as a fine collection of reproductions of images captured by some of the many photographers – both Portuguese and others – who worked in Madeira.  Some of the foreigners who took photographs on the island included British photographers such as Russell Manners Gordon (1829-1906) and Alexander Lamont Henderson (1837-1907).

Although I have no information about the appearances of the photographic studios used by my relatives in 19th century KWT, seeing the museum helped to give me an inkling of how their workplaces must have been. In the case of Julia Margaret Cameron, the places where she created images in her home, Dimbola, were far more makeshift from what I can gather.

Except for Julia Margaret Cameron, all the photographers I have mentioned, and many others working in the nineteenth century, aimed to create visually accurate images of their subjects. Often crystal clear, these pictures are fascinating but usually lifeless. What made Julia Cameron’s photography both unusual and full of life was her experimentation with focussing and processing. She used the camera not as equipment for capturing real life accurately on film but as a tool for creating works of art, in the same way as a painter uses the brush and the sculptor uses chisels. By doing this, she was far in advance of her time; experimentation with photography as a creative art form really only took off in the 20th century. The portraits and other composition that she created on film successfully captured not only their external appearance but also her astute interpretations of her subjects’ personalities.

My book about Julia Margaret Cameron can be obtained from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0BZFCVLX9/ ,

and at the museum shop at Dimbola at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight

Photographic memories

THERE IS PHOTOGRAPHY IN MY GENES. My great-grandfather, Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) left his native Prussia to migrate to South Africa in 1880. He arrived in King Williams Town where he and his future bother-in-law Jakob Rindl established a photography studio, one of the first in southern Africa.


I became keen on photography as soon as an uncle, a keen amateur photographer who was closely related to Jakob Rindl and also Franz Ginsberg, had presented me with a simple Kodak Brownie camera when I was about seven years old. It was exciting taking photographs, waiting for the film to be developed at chemist or photography shops, and then opening the packet to discover whether the prints bore any decent looking images. In those early days, there were plenty of dud shots, but also a few decent ones. I graduated from the Brownie to another Kodak model, which had two lens and a viewfinder on top of the device. It was probably a version of the Brownie Reflex camera. It pleased me because it had a few things that could be adjusted whilst taking a picture.

As I got older, maybe over twelve years old, I began buying photography magazines. I soon realised that to achieve interesting results in photography, using a 35mm film camera was essential. I leafed through the issues, reading the reviews of cameras that sounded wonderful but were way beyond my budget. I was so fascinated by these sophisticated devices that I used to draw pictures, fantasising what I would have liked to have owned.

Eventually, there was a review of a camera that almost suited my pocket money budget, and which was likely to satisfy my desire to own a more complicated camera. The camera, which was given an excellent review was made by the Halina company and cost around £12.The Halina models were manufactured in Hong Kong by the Hakin Company. I cannot recall exactly which model was reviewed but it looked similar to the Halina 35x. I do remember that it did not have a built-in exposure meter.

Twelve pounds was a lot of money for me to find in the mid-1960s. I did not expect my parents to donate this sum to me for something they considered unnecessary because they never showed any interest in taking photographs. However, they did offer me a solution: I could earn the money by helping them. The task I was given was to mow the lawn in our garden once a fortnight. Please note that we only possessed a non-motorised human-powered mower. So, the £1 that I received for each quite arduous mowing was not easy money.

Eventually, I amassed the required sum to buy my Halina camera and it leather-like case. Then, I was faced with the problem of determining the appropriate shutter speed and diaphragm settings for my shots. My uncle, the one who had started off my interest in photography, gave me a circular plastic exposure calculator. By twisting the dial to three settings (weather condition, subject matter, film speed), the device produced a recommended combination of exposure time and diaphragm setting (‘f number’). At first, this was quite difficult to use. After a little practice, I became very adept. For example, I could use the calculator to work out the correct exposure settings when taking pictures of landscape from a moving car or bus, and the results were often more than acceptable.

A little more money saving allowed me to have sufficient to buy a highly recommended low-cost electronic exposure meter made by the Boots Company (the famous British pharmaceutical retailer). The meter was far easier to use, and much quicker than, the plastic calculator.

I used the Halina happily for several years until 1967. That year, my parents paid a visit to Japan, where they were hosted by various Japanese people and organizations. Moments before they were about to board the jet that would fly them back to London, their hosts handed them several generous gifts. One of these was a top of the range Canon Rangefinder camera. As mentioned already my parents had no interest in using cameras.

When my parents landed in London, they declared their gifts to a customs officer. Handing the camera to him, my mother said:

“We don’t want this. Take it so that we need not pay duty.”

The officer looked at the fine camera and said:

“The duty is only £3. Anyway, I can’t take it.”

As my parents paid the duty, the officer leant over and whispered to them:

“You’ll get at least £300 for this if you sell it to someone on Oxford Street.”

Fortunately, they did not follow the officer’s advice. Instead, they gave me the superb camera, which I used for many years until I decided to buy a Pentax single lens reflex (‘SLR’) camera. Its excellent lens and accurate built in exposure meter never let me down.

The Pentax was a disaster. I bought it to use during my first visit to what was then Czechoslovakia. A critical part of it broke two or three days into the trip. No one in Prague could fix the thing. So, I purchased another SLR camera. It was an Exacta, which had been made in Eastern Germany shortly before the Berlin Wall was demolished. The Exacta was heavy but solidly built; it was probably indestructible and produced lovely photographs.

That was all long ago. My interest in photography has continued, but it has been several years since I abandoned film cameras for digital devices, both ‘phones and actual cameras. The advent of digital photography and the editing software that can be employed to modify the images captured have eliminated the need for film developing and darkrooms. Modern digital software allows anyone to be able to do what was only possible in darkrooms and much more.

Sharing photos



I was given my first camera, a Kodak Brownie’, when I was about 7 years old. Since that time I have owned a variety of cameras and camera ‘phones and I have taken many thousands of pictures. 

In the early days, I used to have prints made from negatives. Later, I became converted to colour slide (‘diapositive’) film and produced many colour slides. With the arrival of computers and the Internet into my life, I reverted to film that produced prints and when it became available, I had digital images of my photographs put on compact discs. Nowadays, I hardly ever have prints made from my digital images.

Ever since I first began taking photos, I have enjoyed showing them to other people: relatives, friends, colleagues, and whoever else showed even the tiniest bit of interest. However, when you present people with an album full of photographs or arrange a slide projection session, most folk begin to lose interest fairly fast. Many of them have agreed to look at someone’s pictures mainly out of politeness, rather than genuine interest.

All of that has changed with the advent of social media and Internet sites for displaying photographs. People need only look at pictures when they are interested and for as long as they want without risking offence to the photographer. Often, if they want to, viewers can express their approval and/or make comments. What is more, the viewers need no longer be confined to the friends and acquaintances of the creator of the images. It is possible to make images available to everyone, who uses the Internet. Some may not be happy with that, but I am. My desire to ‘show off’ my pictures to as many people as possible has been fulfilled!

I find that apart from sites like Facebook, the website ipernity.com is a superb place to post pictures. Other users of the site are often both appreciative and helpful with their comments and suggestions. My Ipernity page is http://www.ipernity.com/home/adam