Noel Quinn

The Life’s Work of an Unknown Photographer (Late 1800s)

Having been given a collection of quarter plate glass negatives in 1994, by a friend who thought they would be of historical interest to me, I started to work on them in my darkroom, hand printing and retouching these very degenerated images. Interesting as they were, it quickly became apparent that it would take a lifetime to make anything of the 230 pictures in the collection so I abandoned the project after only two weeks. The negatives were boxed and stored until they surfaced again during a clear out of my house in 2012. 

Now with the introduction of digital technology, the task of rephotographing  and retouching this set of negatives became a realistic possibility and in December 2012 I began the arduous task of indexing and archiving them.  

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RJ Welch and JSH Phillips

New-found Images from RJ Welch and JSH Philips.

Belfast Naturalist Field Club. c.1900.

Saved from the re-cycling bin by photographer Noel Quinn, this selection of 36 of 130 images, offer us a glimpse into the more personal sides of Welch and Philips. These never seen before non- commissioned slides, show them with friends and colleagues in the Belfast Naturalist Field Club. From strange geological structures on Arran, to Holy Wells in Kenmare, this exhibition offers a rare insight into their curious pastimes.

A major find in the history of Irish photography, this is another example of how the BAP has become a repository for new found collections.

This collection surfaced as a result of my recent exhibition, "The life’s work of an unknown photographer." I was contacted by several people who, having read the press coverage, presented me with collections of glass plate negatives and lantern slides to see if they could be restored and exhibited in a similar manner. The most interesting of these collections was this rare treasure trove of Welch and Phillips lantern slides bought in a house clearance sale, some 30 years ago.

It has been my privilege to work along with Frankie Quinn in the restoration process in bringing life to yet another piece of photographic history, which would have remained boxed and unseen if it were not for the existence of the Belfast Archive Project.

Noel R. Quinn

RJ Welch

The leading photographer in the north of Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undoubtedly Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Born at Strabane, Co. Tyrone, he lived for a time in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, where his father ran a photographic business. On the death of his father in 1875 he moved to Belfast and worked for a local photographer, E.T. Church. In 1883 Welch established his own business, and over the next 53 years built up a high reputation as a photographer covering a wide range of fields, including geology, botany, topography, archaeology and ethnography. In his work he dealt with all of Ireland, but especially Ulster: in 1926 he reckoned he had travelled 60,000 miles to photograph antiquities alone. Welch's photographs were used for scientific articles and lectures, as well as for book illustrations, advertisements and publicity purpose. He was official photographer to a number of important industrial firms such as Harland and Wolff and the Belfast Rope works Company. 

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JSH Phillips

James St John Phillips, the son of JAMES JOHN PHILLIPS and his wife Elizabeth Kent Appleby, was born in Co. Antrim on 17 February 1870. He studied engineering at Queen's College, Belfast, from 1887 until 1890, when he gained his B.Eng. degree from the Royal University of Ireland.

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