Tuesday, 5 August 2008

James Iles, hairdresser & photographer of Oamaru

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne

This carte de visite from the late 1860s shows an unidentified young boy seated in a typical studio setting, with a partially painted canvas backdrop, a small table and a diamond-patterned carpet.

Image © and courtesy of Papers Past & the National Library of New Zealand
Advertisement from the North Otago Times of 22 March 1866
Image © and courtesy of Papers Past & the National Library of New Zealand

James Iles was an Oamaru hairdresser who rented rooms on Wansbeck Street, Oamaru and, according to an advertisement in the North Otago Times (dated 22 March 1866, Papers Past) opened a portrait gallery adjacent to the hairdressing shop in early 1866. He remained conducting both businesses at these premises until at least December that year, but some time after April 1867 he had a new studio purpose-built in Tees Street. Apparently the level of trade in the small town of Oamaru was insufficient to keep a photographer fully occupied, because he continued to advertise both of his trades until at least June 1871, and after this date as "hairdresser &c."

Image © and courtesy of Papers Past & the National Library of New Zealand

The above advert appeared on 17 December 1872. The price reduction was possibly in response to the news of some impending competition. The following advert was immediately below it:

Photography! The undersigned will shortly open a branch of his business in Wansbeck-street, Oamaru, in the premises formerly occupied by Messrs Hood and Shennan. Particulars in future advertisment. F. Smith, Photographer.
He ramped up the advertising campaign the following year, offering his potential customers a makeover, possibly quite a drawcard for those who hadn't had time to shave or brush their hair.

Image © and courtesy of Papers Past & the National Library of New Zealand
Advertisement from the North Otago Times of 14 October 1873
Image © and courtesy of Papers Past & the National Library of New Zealand

The Auckland City Libraries Photographers Database shows Iles still working as a photographer in Oamaru in 1878, although advertisements in the North Otago Times dated 1 November to 4 December 1876 demonstrate that was offering the photographic studio for sale. He seems to have ceased operating for a while, because a further advert in the same paper dated 4 March 1878 states, "Hair Dressing. James Iles begs to inform his Friends and the Public that he has Recommenced Business in the above line in old premises in Tees street. Photographs taken as usual." He continued advertising until at least mid-August that year. The later entries identify the shop as being located "a few doors above St Luke's Church, Tees Stree."

A further advert dated 15 March 1880 demonstrates that he had at last been successful in offloading the studio.
Portraits. First-Class Style Guaranteed. Messrs Coxhead & Sargeant having purchased the Photographic Business lately carried on by Mr J. Iles in Tees street, and having effected Extensive Alterations and Improvements, beg to intimate to the public of Oamaru that they are now prepared to Execute Orders Promptly, and in a style hitherto unknown in Oamaru. Portraits enlarged to ANY SIZE required, and finished in Oils, Watercolors, Chalks, &c.
By 1883 it appears that he had moved to Dunedin, and was operating a studio from premises in York Place.

Arthur James Iles (1870-1943) was presumably a son of James Iles, as he is described in the Auckland City Libraries Photographers Database as having arrived in Thames from Otago in the 1890s. He was also a photographer, although he settled in Rotorua after the turn of the century and specialised in the tourist trade. A photograph by him will be featured in a future Photo-Sleuth article.

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