It is said that of photographer George Bell’s many skills, his greatest was ‘his ability to gain the confidence of his subjects and click the shutter at just the right moment to slice a moment out of time, and successfully capture a story.’ Born in 1862 in Hamilton, Scotland, Bell emigrated to Australia and initially worked as a surveyor for the Victorian Government Engineers. A professional vernture with the camera came in 1890 when he was commissioned as photographer on the Victory expedition to New Guinea, sponsored by the New South Wales Government and the Burns Philp company. Upon his return he was employed by renowned Sydney studio photographer, Charles Kerry, who employed Bell as a travelling photographer. After instructing him on the finer points of landscape photography, Kerry despatched Bell, with a carefully worked-out map, to photograph rural New South Wales.
Between 1890 and 1900, while working for Kerry, Bell honed his craft and produced many memorable images, in accordance with Kerry’s desired photorealist style. There was an appetite amongst city dwellers for the rural and pastoral images that Bell and others from the studio produced. According to Geoff Barker, who curated an exhibition of Bell’s images for Sydney’s Powehous Museum, ‘Some of his photographs were so successful they defined Australian outback mythology in the eyes of many of his contemporaries.’
In 1900, Bell left Kerry’s studio to take up a position at the Sydney Mail and was one of that publication’s first generation of in-house photojournalists. He was one of the first photographers to master aerial photography. He became renowned for his landscape photography; his photographs on Mt Kosciusko and of the New South Wales coastline serving to popularise both those locations for tourist travel. A George Bell Ski Run at Mt Koscisuko was named in his honour.
Bell died on 22 October 1925.
- 'Veteran Photographer: The Late George Bell',Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 1925, p. 12.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16250273
- Herbert Fishwisk, 'Herald photographer Mr George Bell wearing a hat, New South Wales, ca.1920', http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn6343007
- Geoff Barker, 'George Bell, Kerry and Co. Photographer', Powerhouse Museum Collection, http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/pdf/OPAC/246256.pdf