Crowd Source a display of more than 50 rare snapshots of Sydneysiders and Sydney’s bustling streets secretly taken with the world’s first hand-held camera has opened at the State Library of NSW.



Two of Arthur Syer’s photographs, taken with a ‘Detective Camera’, showing a hawker haggling with customers (left) and a shoe-shiner (right.)

The photographer, Arthur Syer, was an amateur, who took candid photographs of ordinary people in everyday situations which he supplied to illustrators to use as ‘source material’ to help them create a life-like quality and characters in their drawings. Syer crossed into the publishing industry through his artist brother Walter, who introduced him to internationally renowned English cartoonist, Phil May. Invited to Sydney by The Bulletin in 1885, May often used Syer’s images to add authenticity to the backgrounds for his illustrations, for example drawings of people at the racecourse.

The hand-held camera he used was brought into Australia in the mid-1880s and quickly became popular since it enabled photographers to snap shots quickly without being noticed. An article in The Sydney Mail, 2 July 1881, describes it as “a square case”¦ disguised as a “¦ shoeblack’s box, or even a book. The operator places it upon the ground, or under his arm, the pressure of the pneumatic ball opening or closing the hidden lens at the required moment”. It used dry plate negatives ““ commercialised Eastman Kodak ““ which were available at photography shops, which also handled developing and printing.

The State Library of NSW holds more than170 original Arthur Syer photographs, the most extensive collection of early Australian street photography known to exist. With the help of the Flickr community the Library has been able to label many of the images in the collection.

Entry to the Crowd Source exhibition is free of charge. The images will be on display at the State Library of NSW until 23 August 2015.