Lloyd and Lorraine Harvey are preparing to close the doors on a Ballarat institution.
The closure of Sturt Street photo shop NL Harvey and Sons will end a chapter of Ballarat’s photographic history that began with Mr Harvey’s grandfather in 1901.
Visiting the upstairs room of their shop next to the Mechanics Institute, the family’s long connection with photography in Ballarat becomes clear.
Old cameras line the top shelf above a glass cabinet protecting Mr Harvey’s most loved cameras, including his grandfathers that to the modern eye looks like a large wooden box.
Mr and Mrs Harvey sit at a vintage table in an area they built after purchasing the building at 123 Sturt Street in 1999.
Mr Harvey is retiring and closing the business after 60 years.
But his family history in photography extends long before that.
“Our photographic interest or careers really started with my grandad in around 1901. We have some great historical pictures taken around town that are a credit to him,” Mr Harvey says.
“During the war my dad was an aerial survey photographer in the bombers. He wanted to be a pilot but because he had some photographic interest they trained him up as a photographer. After the war he started his own business. I started with him in the dark rooms at 1958, so that makes my 60 years.”
Mrs Harvey places a light green coloured scrapbook on the small round table that is covered with a large doily crocheted by her mother.
She flips the pages and pulls out old photos of the shop as Mr Harvey speaks.
I started with him in the dark rooms at 1958, so that makes my 60 years.Lloyd Harvey
A photo of a young girl hand colouring photos makes them both smile.
Mr Harvey tells of his father’s work as the official photographer for The Courier and press photographer for other newspapers when the business began as NL Harvey press photo services.
It then moved into commercial and industrial photography and weddings.
Mr Harvey grew up in the dark room, helping out after school before he began working at the shop at 16.
“I got interested from a pretty young age. It was harder work then that it is now,” he says.
“They were little crowded dark rooms where you mixed your own chemistry. We would print up great batches, and develop great handfuls at a time. We had a big drying machine and someone would have to stay there real late at night drying all the photos we had printed out during the day.
“It was pretty busy in those days. We used to do catalogues for Myers stores and Thomas’ and a lot of work for The Courier, a lot of real estate photography, debutantes and weddings. I think our record number of weddings was in the mid 70s when we used to do 150 a year. We were Royal South Street official photographers for over 60 years.”
Mrs Harvey pulls out a photo of her husband at 18. She finds his father’s pass from when he photographed the Queen’s visit to Ballarat in 1958.
“I was smart keeping all this wasn’t I,” she laughs.
Mr Harvey says he didn’t particularly know he wanted to be a photographer, but had an interest from a young age.
“When I left school dad was pretty busy. He said ‘why don’t you come and do work for us for a while’. I never stopped. I didn’t look for any other jobs. This is the only other job I have ever had,” he says.
Mrs Harvey started with the business in 1963 and they both took it over in 1978. In later years she became a photographer too.
“I went back to school and did my VCE and studio art as a subject in 1994. Then I started working full time,” she says, before pulling out another old photo of her husband at 19, showing off brown fingernails. They were stained from sepia toning photos.
Mr and Mrs Harvey’s son carried photography into the fourth generation and worked with the couple for 17 years until 2016 processing photo and film, restoring old photographs and as a videographer.
In recent years they have strengthened the retail side of the business, selling frames, albums and photo equipment in the store, a small transformation compared to the need to change and adapt to new technology.
“We hated going into digital,” Mr Harvey says.
“In my grandfathers’ day it was all glass plates. When dad started the business we were using cameras that had five by four inch film – that’s when I started. Over the years the film we used got smaller and smaller and then this thing popped up what we call digital photography.
“Digital cameras were pretty awful in the beginning. It has got better and better. We have been doing digital photography on Nikon cameras which is now much easier because you can almost get instant results. I loved the changes, except when it all became computerised, but it did make it easier not going to dark rooms and mixing chemicals.”
Mr Harvey pauses to laugh at a photo his wife pulls out of the scrapbook where he has thick long dark hair and a mustache.
She finds a brochure that reminds them of Mr Harvey’s father’s favourite words: “ a good photograph is like a good memory, it never fades”.
A good photograph is like a good memory. It never fades.NL Harvey
“I think the most rewarding part was when we started to print our own colour in 1962,” Mr Harvey says.
“We started off in a pretty primitive way but eventually we mastered it. It was probably one of my best achievements.”
Boxes of negatives from every wedding they photographed sit under the stairs. Mrs Harvey says she finds it hard to let go of photos – what she loves about the job is the people.
As to what makes a good photo, Mr Harvey says shooting at the right time comes from years of experience.
“After years you just know. It’s all in the eyes,” Mr Harvey says.
“I don’t snap hundreds of photos. I take time setting up shots and might only take one picture. In those days with the size of the cameras and carrying around magazine and films you might only take 30 photos at a wedding.”
He still admires his father’s photos that captured an incredible moment, those when you only have one chance.
There’s a sense of nostalgia talking about the past, but Mr Harvey says he has to retire at some time – at 76, now seems the time to do it.
The couple are running a clearance sale of frames and albums remaining downstairs and looking for someone to lease the shop, so they can return from their Christmas holiday and start fresh.
“There’s nothing else I want to do in business with photography, but I won’t stop taking photos.”