Step back in time to the age before selfies

The scene from William Hayes' wedding reception held in his photographic studio.
The scene from William Hayes' wedding reception held in his photographic studio.

One of the historic buildings at Ryedale Folk Museum is the oldest remaining daylight photography studio in the country.

It was originally built in 1902 in York by William Hayes, whose son Raymond was to become one of the founders of the Museum.

A visit to the studio today, is a reminder of the amazing developments in technology over the past century. Nowadays, photographs and even videos are taken everywhere and shared around the world in an instant.

In 1902, a visit to the studio to sit for a photographic portrait would have been a special occasion. Until the arrival of photography, portraits were painted. They were expensive and only available to those who could afford them. By 1900, the growing middle classes were taking advantage of photographs, which were much cheaper.

The ‘Hayes studio’ is a single story building with wooden walls.

The main studio has large glass windows and glass in the roof. This provides the all-important natural light instead of more expensive and unreliable artificial light. For portrait photographs, the sitters posed against a backcloth. The level of daylight could be adjusted by the use of blinds.

Early cameras were very slow to take pictures, so sitters had to remain still for several seconds to obtain a clear photograph. The exposed plate was taken directly to the dark room behind the studio to be developed. William Hayes could then ensure that a good image had been obtained and the customer liked the picture. Therefore, if necessary, the photograph could be retaken again.

Printing, retouching, toning and mounting were done at a later stage. William also had a thriving business producing picture postcards, which were proving a popular way of staying in touch with family and friends. Portraits or pictures of local scenes were used. William made frequent expeditions by bicycle, taking photographs of people and locations.

William had studied at York Art School but had to leave when his father died. After working briefly as a graphic designer at Rowntrees, he became a photographer.

He set up his studio in Monkgate, York in 1902. In 1911, the family moved to Hutton-le-Hole, where his wife’s family lived.

The studio was dismantled, transported by horses and carts. It was re-erected in a field William had purchased at the north of the village, while the family lived in nearby Moorside Cottage.

In 1923, William moved to Scarborough and joined John W Gray’s photographic business. He returned to Hutton-le-Hole just two years later.

Although it is hard to imagine, the studio was home to the family for two years while a bungalow was being built next door. It must have been very cramped but photographs of that time show a family meal in the main studio with a bed just visible in the background. William Hayes even had his wedding reception in the daylight studio.

Today, a visit to the studio gives you the chance to step back to a time before selfies and pose for a formal studio photograph in the style of the 1900s.