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Henry Wykes - photographer

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Much of 20th century Exeter would not have been photographed, but for Henry Wykes. Born in Australia in 1874, Wykes was a talented artist. He travelled to Europe as a young man and spent some time in Antwerp, copying old masters and learning his trade. In 1914, he moved to Exeter, where he purchased an already established photographic studio from Charles Keeping, who had been taking portraits and photos of local events and views for the previous 25 or so years. The studio was situated overlooking the river Exe, at the bottom of Fore Street, and was notable for the large west facing, conservatory-like window on the side to allow daylight photography.

Henry Wykes quickly settled in, taking portraits of local citizens and also engaging in painting, and restoration work as well as hand colouring prints. Wykes was also a skilled painter of miniature portraits and was a member of the Royal Institute of Miniature Painters. He had a good sense for business, as demonstrated by the tram crash that occurred in March 1917, on the Exe Bridge, just below his studio. He was at the scene in minutes with his camera, and within an hour, selling postcards of the accident from the door of the studio.

In 1919, Wykes business is listed at 1A Exe Bridge and also 49, High Street where a more central location would have increased trade. The Exe Bridge studio was eventually vacated, and Wykes moved his business up to Bedford Circus. In 1939, the business is listed in Northernhay Place. At some point, Wykes formed a partnership with Marjorie Hockmuth - as he grew older, Hockmuth took on more of the work. The Northernhay Studio was old fashioned by todays standards. It had a false window and a painted backdrop for use in portraits and was furnished with a variety of chairs and props for the sitters to use. The subject was lit with a bank of transformer driven sodium lamps, supplemented with tungsten lights to soften the features. There was a small darkroom for processing the film, although Wykes used the services of a Mr Burgess for the final prints. Wykes became known as Britain's oldest working photographer, and he did not retire until he was 88. After Wykes died in 1964, at the age of 90, Hockmuth ran the business for a further ten years and continued to use a wooden half-plate camera for her studio work.

When Hockmuth retired in 1974, Peter Thomas, a local photographer who had travelled widely had the chance to view the stored negatives of more than 50 years work. He was amazed to discover a treasure trove of photographs of old Exeter dating from 1910 and up to 1970. He purchased part of the photographic archives of the studio, returning two years later to buy the rest. There were 42,000 negatives, many on glass half-plates. This became the basis of the ISCA Historic Photographic Collection. Thomas has since displayed many photographs to the public,lectured and published a number of books. The most prominent is Aspects of Exeter which was co-written with Jacqueline Warren.

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