This exhibition displayed a historic photographic collection of WWI soldiers who had their photos taken by the famed Western Australian photographer Denis Dease, whose business, Dease Studio, was located at 117 Barrack Street, Perth from 1898 to 1929.
The photos used in this exhibit where first rediscovered in the basement of the Perth Fire Station in the 1980s. The collection comprised 533 boxes of half plate glass negatives, about 6,500 in total. The collection was then given to the WA Museum and later the State Library of Western Australia so it could be preserved. In that collection approximately 741 negatives were identified as being of WWI servicemen.
In 1999 Julie Martin, manager of the Pictorial Collection of the State Library of Western Australia, launched the “Adopt A Soldier” Campaign which raised money for the digitisation and preservation of the negatives. During the campaign, stories from the descendants flooded in, followed by funds with additional support from LotteryWest. This allowed the photographs to be catalogued along with the names that Dease Studio had inscribed onto the back of each negative.
In 2016 the Museum of Perth started work on “The Soldiers of Barrack Street” which aimed to expand upon the work done in the State Library and identify the solders. This was done with the help of volunteers who painstakingly cross-referenced various primary source databases and original documents with the name and image of the soldier, led by WWI research historian Shannon Lovelady.
When this exhibition opened to the public the main aim was to give a face to over 600 of the Western Australians who went off to fight in WWI and tell some of the colourful, sometimes tragic stories of the soldiers whose images were captured on the glass plates. But it was also to bring families together to see an old family member, often for the first time.
The other notable component of this exhibition was the story of Denis Dease, who was not just a prolific photographer but also a savvy businessman. He, along with the Sunday Times, offered a deal to all Perth soldiers going to the front if they brought in a coupon from the Sunday Times which announced “it has arranged with the Dease Studio to supply every soldier going to the front with a free photograph of himself prior to leaving.” This deal went so well the coupon was printed again later.
Due to the continued good work of the volunteers and the families of the soldiers, we have identified almost 90% of the soldiers that were displayed in the exhibition.