The Madeira Photography Museum – Atelier Vicente’s

The Madeira Photography Museum – Atelier Vicente’s

The Madeira Photography Museum – Atelier Vicente’s

Founded by Vicente Gomes da Silva in the 1850ies, this photographic studio, situated in Funchal, survives complete with equipment, sets, cameras, costumes and pictures.

After a five-year closure and a 1.7-million-euro renovation, the oldest photo studio of Portugal just opened its doors to visitors again at the end of July 2019. Hence, how about a visit of the Madeira Photography Museum?

First Photographer on Madeira and in Portugal

It is very difficult to become a photographer around 1850!  Furthermore, Vicente Gomes da Silva was not a photographer but a painter and wood sculptor.  Probably, he received his inspiration after reading the reports of two Frenchmen on Daguerreotype.  Then, the invention of the collodion process on glass plates by Frederick Scott Archer, made photography a little easier.

Vicente Gomes build a wooden box of 40cm in length at the end of which he could slide the glass plate.  This was Madeira’ first camera! You can see it here below on the right. To the right, here is a picture of the photography studio with podium and decors. However, Sr Gomes da Silva also took many pictures outside. As a result, he captured the essence of life on Madeira.

Inauguration – Re-Opening

During the wonderful reopening, Paula Cabaço, the Secretary of Tourism and Culture, said to Lusa Agency:  “We are talking about an eighteenth century photographic house, the oldest in the country, which has gone through four generations of the same family, so we are talking about a heritage that tells a lot about Madeirans, was part of the daily life and the experience of Madeira,”

Furthermore, Paula Cabaço explained that the reconstruction of the atelier also includes a presentation of the history of the photographic processes, from the daguerreotype to the first color photographs, through the devices of magic lantern and stereoscopy (three-dimensional photography).

Witness of Madeira’s History

This exquisite and lovingly renovated photographic studio, above a shady cobbled courtyard, was in use until 1982. Then, the government of Madeira bought it and transformed it into a museum.  Hence, the well-preserved yesterday’s equipment exhibitions are interesting. They allow the visitor to imagine how photographers used to work.  However, the real treasures are the 800,000 images (negatives), mostly from the 20th century.  These are by far the most valuable record of island life in existence. All these pictures are printed in 47 books.  From those pictures, about half or 400.000 of them stem from donations from local families. 

These pictures are a wonderful database and “memory” of Madeira.  It depicts famous and even royal visitors of Madeira.

Imperial and Royal Photographer

In 1866, Vicente Gomes da Silva received the title of photographer of the Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria. Then in 1903, Sr Gomes da Silva received the label of Photographer of the Royal Portuguese House. Hence, this contributed even more to its importance, making it one of the best equipped studios of the 19th century.

Where is the Madeira Photography Museum?

The Museum is located at Rua da Carreira, 43 – 1.º and it is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10.00h to 17.00h.