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John Moffat
John Moffat
John Moffat

John Moffat

Country: United Kingdom
Birth: 1819 | Death: 1894

John Moffat was a Scottish portrait photographer, but he also produced stereoscopic photographs. Apart from being a successful businessman, he was also an amateur painter and musician and had eight children, of whom several were as multi-talented as their father.

Moffat was born on the 26 April 1819 in Aberdeen, Scotland into the family of Francis Moffat (b.1782) – a bookbinder – and Elizabeth Moffat (nee Rankin – aka Rankine). He grew up in a family of three sisters and one brother but would have had another sister and two other brothers had they not died very young before he was born. Not a lot is known about John’s childhood but his father appears to have been interested in the arts and sciences. He was also keen on education and John learnt French at school, a skill which he used later in his photographic researches.

By 1847, at the age of 28, John Moffat appears in directories as having his own business as an engraver at 24 Gardiner’s Crescent, Edinburgh. He continued to advertise from that address until at least 1849. On the 19th May 1847 John married Ellen Notman (aka Helen Notman) at South Leith, Midlothian, Scotland. John’s first child, Ellen Jane Moffat, was born c 1849 according to the 1851 census when she was stated as being two years old. Ellen was also known as Nelly. She grew up to work in the photography business and was living with John in 1881 according to the census that year despite her mother and father getting a divorce many years beforehand. The census in 1851 shows John, aged 31, at 1 Windsor Street, Edinburgh with his young daughter Ellen J Moffat and a 20-year-old servant called Margaret Rae. His occupation was stated as a picture engraver master. It is almost certain that John and his wife Ellen had parted, and more probably had divorced, at this stage. On 22 June 1851 John married his second wife, Sophia Maria Knott, whose brother was the photographer James Brown Knott. John and Sophia were married in Edinburgh.

Mr Kennedy / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Mr Kennedy / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Creative Commons CC by NC © John Moffat
John Moffat started his first photographic studio in 1853 but he was still advertising his skills as an engraver from the same address in 1854; apparently, he was migrating from engraver to photographer during this period. He certainly confirmed 1853 as the date that his photography business was established by printing the fact on the reverse of his carte de visite mounts.

John’s second child, and his first child with his new wife Sophia, was born in 1854 and named Frank Pelham Moffat. Frank was very involved with the family firm from the early 1870s and he eventually took over when his father died in 1894. Frank was also a fine photographer and was involved at an early stage in colour photography – probably using the Autochrome process. Another child, Sophia Elizabeth Moffat was born in 1856. She never married and lived on until the 1930s. John and Sophia had a second son, Fred (John F) Moffat, in or about 1857. Kate Rankin Moffat was born on the 30 November 1859 and remained a spinster all her life. She is said to have had an active life and embraced new ideas such as motor cars. She died in 1954 in Edinburgh.

John Moffat is said to have taken a set of daguerreotype photographs of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they visited the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1855 although the whereabouts of these photographs is not now known. The Photographic Society of Scotland was formed in March 1856 and John Moffat was an active member so he would have met many early photographers and photographic researchers including Sir David Brewster and William Henry Fox Talbot who John later photographed in his studio at 103 Princes Street in 1864. A unique Day Book is still in existence from 1856 to 1858 and contains details of the studio customers, charges, expenses and profits on a weekly basis. It also records, interestingly, details of the weather which appears to have had a significant effect on business turnover.

In 1857 John went to France and eventually went to Canada to become a farmer. By 1858 John had moved his studio again to 60 Princes Street, an address that is connected to his brother-in-law James Brown Knott. At that time, the carte de visite had not become popular and John would have still been producing ambrotypes in smart little cases.

Kate Rankin Moffat was born on 30 November 1859 and remained a spinster all her life. She is said to have had an active life and embraced new ideas such as motor cars. She died in 1954 in Edinburgh. Arthur Elwell Moffat was born later in 1861 and went on to be a painter in watercolour and oils as well as a musician. He exhibited on many occasions and won medals for his work. It is likely that he worked in the family business as a colourist. Arthur died in 1943.

In 1861 John Moffat moved his studio again, this time further west along Princes Street to better premises at 103 Princes Street where he stayed until 1875. In the same year he became a member of the Council of the prestigious Photographic Society of Scotland. The family continued to grow when Alfred Edward Moffat was born on the 4th December 1863. Alfred became very musical and played the violin and was a musical arranger. He studied in Germany where he met a local girl and got married. Alfred died in the 1950s. John and Sophia’s last child was a daughter called Alice May Moffat. She grew up and married a prominent local businessman – James Watt – a member of the Edinburgh Stock Exchange.

Mr Kennedy / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Unknown Man with White Beard / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Creative Commons CC by NC © John Moffat
The Photographic Society of Scotland, of which John was a Council Member, was wound up in 1871 and was effectively replaced by the Edinburgh Photographic Society. John Moffat later became the President of the Edinburgh Photographic Society until shortly before his death in 1894.

1873 was a major year in the life of the Moffat photographic enterprise as John moved into a prestigious studio at 125 Princes Street. This studio was run in parallel with the one at 103 Princes Street until 1875 and then became the sole outlet until the 1920s; way after John Moffat’s death.

John was a determined businessman and turned to the courts on more than one occasion. In the autumn of 1875 John Moffat took another well-known Edinburgh photographer, Robertson Ross of Ross & Pringle, to court for non-payment for photographic work carried out. He won his case. An interesting article about John’s studio appeared in the Mercantile Age on the 9th September 1887 which described a visit to 125 Princes Street. A description of the way that children were photographed was particularly interesting, as follows: "Above this room (the main studio) is another room with a stronger light than the one below, and eminently suitable for taking children’s portraits. The cameras used here have wonderfully sensitive pneumatic shutters, so instantaneous and noiseless in their action that frequently the operator can engage the attention of the sitter by some pleasing manoeuvre, and when his educated eye catches a pleasing expression, he can without moving from his position, command chemicals and old Sol to instantly do the rest before the young patron is aware of it."

In a second section, the reporter comments on John Moffat’s business acumen as follows "We are please to notice that everywhere great economy is manifest. Mr. Moffat, understanding the chemistry of his trade, is successful in recovering a very great quantity of his silver. We witnessed the operation of washing and recovering, and we were altogether taken by surprise at the percentage of the chloride of silver recovered"

Other comments from elsewhere also support this view that John Moffat was a canny businessman and that he was always interested in new ideas and processes. John Moffat died on the 5th. March 1894 and an obituary was printed in the British Journal of Photography in the March issue of that year. A quote from the end of the obituary is very touching – "He was ever kind and considerate to his employees and generous in his treatment of them, while, in ordinary business matters all knew him to be honourable and upright in the highest degree".

Source: www.cartedevisite.co.uk


 

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His nose was broken and scared during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 as an aftershock threw him up against a wall. After the death of his grandfather the family business was hit by the bank crisis of 1907 and by 1912, his family’s standard of living had been dearly impacted. Ansel was a hyperactive child prone to sickness. After being expelled from several schools due to his restlessness, at age 12, his father decided to tutor him at home with the help of professors and Ansel’s aunt. He soon became interested in music and started learning the piano, but all changed when aged 14, his aunt gave him a copy of “In the Heart of the Sierras”. The photographs by Georges Fiske were a revelation and Ansel persuaded his parents to visit Yosemite National Park during the following vacations. Equiped with a Kodak Box Brownie n°1, Ansel Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916. Amazed by the site and the light, he returned to Yosemite National Park the following year with better cameras and a tripod. He will return regularly to Yosemite National Park where he will even meet his future wife, Virginia Best. You don’t take a photograph, you make it. -- Ansel Adams At age 17, Adams joined the Sierra Club, a wildlife preservation group. He will remain a convinced environmentalist and a member of the Sierra Club his entire life. His work will promote the goals of the Sierra Club and bring environmental issues to light. In 1932, Adams founded the group f/64 with photographer friend Edward Weston, to promote their independent and modernist vision of photography. It is with Fred Archer that Adams will develop the Zone System (1939-40), a technique which allows photographers to define the proper exposure on negatives and adjust the contrasts on the prints. The depth and clarity of Ansel Adam’s photographs illustrate this technique. Initially, despite their size and weight, Ansel Adams used large format cameras as they offered a high resolution and a sharp image. The timeless photographs and the striking visual beauty clearly characterize Ansel Adams’ photographs. In 1952, he was also one of the founders of Aperture magazine. He died in 1984 from a cardio Vascular disease. Shortly after his death in 1984, the Minarets Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest was renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness. In 1985, a peak in Sierra Nevada, was named Mount Ansel Adams. He was survived by his wife, two children and 5 grand children.Source: The Ansel Adams Gallery
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Exclusive Interview with Patrick Cariou
For more than 25 years, French photographer Patrick Cariou has traveled to places around the globe, documenting people living on the fringes of society. Whether photographing surfers, gypsies, Rastafarians or the rude boys of Kingston, Cariou celebrates those who meet the struggles of life with honor, dignity and joy. Bringing together works from his groundbreaking monographs including Surfers, Yes Rasta, Trenchtown Love and Gypsies, Patrick Cariou: Works 1985–2005 (published by Damiani) takes us on a scenic journey around the world, offering an intimate and captivating look at cultures that distance themselves from the blessings and curses of modernity.
Exclusive Interview with Niko J. Kallianiotis
Niko J. Kallianiotis' Athênai in Search of Home (published by Damiani) presents photos taken in and around Athens, the city in which he grew up. The images reflect the artist's eagerness to assimilate back into a home that feels at once foreign and familiar. Throughout the years the city and the surrounding territories have experienced their share of socio-economic struggles and topographic transformations that have altered its identity. The city of Athens in Kallianiotis' photographs is elliptically delineated as a vibrant environment that binds together luxury and social inequality. The photographer depicts a city in which the temporal and the spatial elements often clash with each other while conducting his research for a home that has changed over the years as much as he did.
Exclusive Interview with Ave Pildas
My new book STAR STRUCK focuses on the people and places of Hollywood Boulevard. Soon after I moved to Los Angeles in the '70s, I started shooting there. I was working at Capital Records, just a block and a half away, as a one of four art directors. At lunchtime, we would go out to eat at the Brown Derby, Musso, and Franks, or some other local restaurant, and I got to observe all the activity that was occurring on Hollywood Boulevard. It was amazing and it was fun, even though the location was ''on the turn''.
Exclusive Interview with Elaine Mayes
In The Haight-Ashbury Portraits, 1967-1968 (published by Damiani) during the waning days of the Summer of Love, Elaine Mayes embarked on a set of portraits of youth culture in her neighborhood. Mayes was a young photographer living in San Francisco during the 1960s. She had photographed the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and, later that year the hippie movement had turned from euphoria to harder drugs, and the Haight had become less of a blissed-out haven for young people seeking a better way of life than a halfway house for runaway teens.
Exclusive Interview with Theophilus Donoghue
A new release, Seventy-thirty (published by Damiani) depicts humanity's various faces and expressions, from metropolitans to migrants, unseen homeless to celebrities such as Robert De Niro, Muhammad Ali, Rene Magritte, Janis Joplin, and Andy Warhol. Steve Schapiro photographs early New York skateboarders while Theophilus Donoghue documents current Colombian breakdancers. Alternately profound and playful, father and son's photographs capture a vast range of human emotions and experiences. For this project, Schapiro selected images from the 60s civil rights movement and, with Donoghue, provided photos from today's Black Lives Matter protests and environmental rallies.
Exlusive Interview with Jessica Todd Harper about her Book Here
Like 17th-century Dutch painters who made otherwise ordinary interior scenes appear charged with meaning, Pennsylvania-based photographer Jessica Todd Harper looks for the value in everyday moments. Her third monograph Here (Published by Damiani) makes use of what is right in front of the artist, Harper shows how our unexamined or even seemingly dull surroundings can sometimes be illuminating
Exclusive Interview with Roger Ballen about his Book Boyhood
In Boyhood (published by Damiani) Roger Ballen's photographs and stories leads us across the continents of Europe, Asia and North America in search of boyhood: boyhood as it is lived in the Himalayas of Nepal, the islands of Indonesia, the provinces of China, the streets of America. Each stunning black-and-white photograph-culled from 15,000 images shot during Ballen's four-year quest-depicts the magic of adolescence revealed in their games, their adventures, their dreams, their Mischief. More of an ode than a documentary work, Ballen's first book is as powerful and current today as it was 43 years ago-a stunning series of timeless images that transcend social and cultural particularities.
Exclusive Interview with Kim Watson
A multi-dimensional artist with decades of experience, Kim Watson has written, filmed, and photographed subjects ranging from the iconic entertainers of our time to the ''invisible'' people of marginalized communities. A highly influential director in music videos' early days, Watson has directed Grammy winners, shot in uniquely remote locations, and written across genres that include advertising, feature films for Hollywood studios such as Universal (Honey), MTV Films, and Warner Brothers, and publishers such as Simon & Schuster. His passionate marriage of art and social justice has been a life-long endeavor, and, in 2020, after consulting on Engagement & Impact for ITVS/PBS, Kim returned to the streets to create TRESPASS, documenting the images and stories of LA's unhoused. TRESPASS exhibited at The BAG (Bestor Architecture Gallery) in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, September 17, 2022 – October 11, 2022.
Exclusive Interview with Julia Dean, Founder of the L.A. Project
Julia Dean, Founder of the Los Angeles Center of Photography, and its executive director for twenty-two years, began The L.A. Project in 2021. A native Nebraskan, Julia has long sought to create a special project where love for her adopted L.A., and her passion for documentary photography can be shared on a grander scale.
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