15 February 2023

Riverina Rewind: When a touch of colour added blush to Wagga's brides

| Chris Roe and Michelle Maddison
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old wedding photo

The 1942 wedding of ”Clarrye” Watts and Isabel Maher. Photo: Museum of the Riverina (Watts collection).

Today, the Museum of the Riverina takes us back to 1942 and Wagga’s Ernest Tooley Studios.

Here we see the bridal party of owner and operator Clarence Alfred ”Clarrye” Watts and his new wife, Isabel Eileen Maher.

The group comprises (from left) groomsman Royce Phillips, best man (and brother of the groom) Clyde Watts, groom Clarrye Watts, bride Isabel and her bridesmaids, sister Mollie Maher and Carmel Purtell.

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Clarrye took over the business from local photographer Ernest Tooley and operated in Wagga Wagga from the early 1940s to 1955.

The studio was at the bottom of the stairs, beside Wollundry Lagoon Bridge on Baylis Street, and focused on wedding portraiture and theatre curtain-call photography.

This carefully staged photograph was taken in the Tooley Studios and was hand-coloured by Clarrye Watts himself, adding a rosy glow to the cheeks and a splash of colour to the bridesmaids.

Hand-tinted photography was a way of bringing early monochrome, black-and-white photos to life and was all the rage between 1900 and 1940.

In particular, hand-coloured wedding photographs were incredibly popular.

While the colours presented were not always true to reality, they do give us an idea of the colour of dresses, hair and eyes of these people from long ago.

By the 1950s, colour film became widely available and fewer photographs were coloured by hand, although it was still practised by some studios until the early 1970s.

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The wedding of Clarrye and Isabel took place at St Michael’s Cathedral, Wagga, on 3 January, 1942, and was described in detail by The Daily Advertiser: “The bride wore a gown of the sheerest organdie, appliqued with large flowers, and featuring a long train. A cut tulle veil fell from a shiny cap of embroidered organdie. She carried a bouquet of white gladioli and pink carnations, and also a gold-mounted prayer book and mother of pearl rosary beads, lent by a friend.

“A reception was later held at the home of the bride, where the tables had been beautifully arranged by Mr Reg Hyland. A feature was the magnificent two-tiered blue and white wedding cake, made by the bride’s mother, who received the guests …”

The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Sydney and Orange.

After Clarrye’s time, Ernest Tooley Studios remained in operation under Bernie Clarke until the 1980s when Wagga’s John and Maria Egan took over the business.

They changed the name to Studio Image in 1983 because, according to John, “we got sick of being mistaken for Mr and Mrs Tooley!”.

The business closed its doors in 2005 with the rise of digital photography and a decline in interest in studio portraiture.

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