What is strange about this photo? What do we know about and why is it not what it seems?

I found this image at a car boot sale. What a great photo such grandeur and that hair it looks like it is his and not a wig! Just amazing. I coloured it for this blog post.

colourizing a black and white photo after colourizing

Colourized Alex Corbet photo – circa 1900

What is odd about it?

At first, look it just a photo of some guy in a fancy outfit. The first thing I did was to look up the period in history for this type of fashion. From what I can gather from scouting the web his style seems to come from the 1750s. On its own, this is nothing out of the ordinary but it is when we look at when photograph studios came about in the early 1840s and 50’s this is 100 years later. However, this was for the early types of photographic media. Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes, this photo is neither and is on actual photographic paper!

colourizing a black and white photo before colourizing

Original silvered print

What is known about it?

It is printed using the silver halide chemical process, in popular use from around 1870. If we look at the bottom right, this image is stamped by an Alexander Corbett. A search on the web reveals his photography company went on to photograph Royal subjects. His prints also have a place in the national portrait gallery.  However, I can find no information about him at all. From looking at his photographic progression in the national portrait collection, a rough estimate to the year this photo was taken would be about 1900. We are now 150 years on from the fashion shown in the image.

Puzzling we have such a sharp image and such grandeur from a time so long ago? Was it a re-enactment, a special occasion and an eccentric Royal who preferred 150-year-old fashion? Who is this man in the photo that Alexander Corbett photographed? What more do we know about the photographer, why is there so little information about him? It would be interesting to find out more about this story.

Are you a sleuth? Do you know more? Please comment below.

EDIT: Jan 2023 Some info collected by Dick Weindling who emailed me


“Born: 1868 Sept 23
Baptised: 1898 Oct 4 St Marylebone
Parents: Benjamin and Harriet Corbett. 19 Park Road

Marriage: 14 Oct 1899, died 21 January 1935

At one time manager of Ellis and Walery, Mr Corbett opened his own studio in 1909 and quickly became well known as an accomplished portraitist. In 1923 he filled with quiet distinction the office of the President of the Professional Photographers and served for many years on the council of that body. He joined the RPS in 1914.”

Alexander Corbett is President of the Professional Photographers Association
He has had 35 years’ of experience and believes that daylight-studios will gradually become extinct. Ref: Photo-era Magazine Vol 50 p173