George W. Morris began taking professional photos in 1892 when he opened his photography store on Main Street in Southampton.
He neglected to mention that more than 10,000 glass plate negatives were hidden in the basement — first discovered in 2017 when the store closed.They illuminate a lost era spanning a century, and a new selection of historic photos from the “Morris Studio Collection” will open on Saturday, March 2, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Rogers Mansion, located at 17 Meeting House Lane in Southampton.
“A dapper fellow, whose self-portrait shows him in a bowler and bow tie assuming a jaunty, Chaplin-esque pose, Morris came to Southampton at the age of 21 from Sayville where he had apprenticed in photography,” a press release said. “An up-and-coming resort for the glamorous affluent, Southampton seemed like a good bet for an up-and-coming photographer. By all accounts — and we have the photographic evidence — George Morris was a master of his craft in an era when images were still being captured on glass plates by a very complex process. Because it was essential that the plates be kept moist, Morris would float them in a sticky essence of coffee.”
For studio portraits, Morris liked to use the natural light from a large skylight — which, alas, was sent crashing to the floor in the 1938 hurricane. Out in the field with his primitive camera, Morris captured priceless views of Southampton’s dirt roads, vintage automobiles, its landmarks and long-gone citizens engaged in forgotten pursuits. Back in his darkroom, he mixed his own chemicals to produce the images that are the best record of Southampton at the turn of the last century.
“Following in their father’s footsteps, sons Wilton and Douglas Morris later took over the business and proved nimble negotiators of the rapid advances in photography that led to its popularization,” the release said. “When Douglas Morris retired, the business continued under the ownership of Jim Thomason, but his efforts and those of his son who followed him were gradually overwhelmed by the realities of the digital age, when anyone with a smartphone can take a decent photograph and cameras are again largely the province of professionals and serious amateurs.
“The Morris Studio building survives at 72 Main Street in another guise and the collection of photographs that is George Morris’s priceless legacy is now owned by Jim Thomason’s son, Neal Thomason,” it continues. “The spirit of Morris Studio lives on with Mary Godfrey, who owns a framing and photography store at 89 Jobs Lane.”
The exhibit will remain on view through August 3. For more information, call (631) 283-2494 or visit southamptonhistory.org.