“The Soldiers of Barrack Street” focuses on the work of famed West Australian photographer Denis Dease who operated the Dease studio at 117 Barrack Street from 1898 to 1929. Dease was a prolific photographer of great importance. He was a highly respected creative, but also an Aussie larrikin in the truest sense of the word. A man of many interests, with a dry sense of humour and a legacy that speaks to us powerfully down the years.
Through his practice, Dease chronicled the changing faces and fashions of Perth through arguably the most interesting period of our recent history; from Gold-Rush to the outbreak of the “Great War” and through to the Great Depression.
The Soldiers of Barrack Street are all joined to one another through their service, as well as their portraits. More than 600 World War 1 Servicemen, and many of their families, had their portraits taken at the Dease Studio from 1914 to 1919. These images are beautiful, yet harrowing; many of these soldiers never returned. In many cases, Dease’s portrait was their first and only. A treasured memento for their families and future generations.
533 boxes of half plate glass negatives (approximately 6,500 images) from the Dease studio were found in the basement of a Perth fire station in the 1980’s as it was being prepared for demolition. It is believed the negatives had been purchased with the intention of being used as break glass in fire alarms throughout the buildings of Perth. Thankfully the negatives were gifted to the WA Museum and later, the State Library of Western Australia, for preservation. Within this vast collection approximately 741 images of World War 1 Service Men were identified.
In 1999 Julie Martin, Manager of the Pictorial Collection of the State Library of Western Australia, launched the “Adopt A Soldier” Campaign to raise money for the digitisation and interpretation of the negatives. Stories flooded in from descendants, and funds followed with additional support from LotteryWest. The photographs were catalogued along with the names that Dease Studio had inscribed onto the negatives.
“The Soldiers of Barrack Street” exhibition builds on the work of the State Library. Our volunteers have delved deeper into the archives to painstakingly cross-reference various databases and original documents. We have been able to identify and verify around 85% of the soldiers represented in this exhibition. Approximately 100 remaining “Unknown Soldiers” are yet to be identified.
The exhibition brings together a portrait of every single soldier photographed by Dease at his studio. Our accompanying online searchable database allows the public to connect directly to further information about each soldier, and will build overtime as our knowledge of their stories unfolds.