The Fancy Basket Shop c1857

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This pair of stereoscopic prints was produced in around 1857 by William Mason Junior. Mason’s father owned one of Brighton’s earliest photographic studios, the Repository of Arts and Talbotype Gallery in the King’s Road. Although only an apprentice in his father’s firm, Mason received acclaim for the stereoscopic views he produced at this time. Many of these were portraits of local working class figures, and these prints belong to that series.

Sadly, this is the only example of Mason’s work that we hold, but reproductions of similar photographs can be seen in Philippe Garner’s book, A Seaside Album. Mason was not alone in photographing working class subjects at this time, but his portraits are distinct in the way they value the work of the worker. In this example, the photograph does not simply show the fancy basket maker weaving; he is surrounded by his creations, which are enhanced by both colour and, if seen through a viewer, in three dimensions. Yet the basket maker is never engulfed by his creations. He is more like a masterful spider at the centre of an elaborate web of wicker.

The photograph is also a fine example of the hand tinting processes used by early photographers. If you would like to view the original, it will be on display in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Capturing Colour exhibition from 4 December onwards.

Kevin Bacon, Curator of Photographs

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