photographer, was working in Sydney between 1890 and 1894 predominantly as a portraitist to Sydney’s elite, although examples of her landscape, architectural and group photographs also survive (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney). Laura was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, daughter of Eliza and John Wilton Frankland Blundell. Her father was a doctor of medicine who migrated to Queensland with his family in 1870.
In August 1880 Laura Blundell married Francis Pasqual Praeger, but later divorced him. It appears that she then moved to Sydney and took up residence at 187 Macquarie Street. Sands Sydney Directory lists her in partnership with a photographer named Chubb for the years 1890-91, but in 1892 Mrs Praeger alone is listed as occupying the studio in Beale’s Chambers, George Street. Following a move to 506-508 George Street in 1893, Madame Praeger operated out of premises at 76 William Street in 1893-94, then disappears from the Sydney scene as a professional photographer. She had married George B. Harland, a solicitor and notary, in October 1894.
Praeger’s photographs certainly exhibit flair and originality. Her earliest known, a set of eight interior and exterior views of Clarens, Potts Point, contain careful arrangements and unusual perspectives. Foregrounded foliage or classical ornaments frame intimate views of naturally-lit rooms and gardens gradually opening out through the series to a set of broad harbour vistas. Her group work, particularly her large portrait of the members of the 1891 Federal Convention, indicates that she was technically very capable. At the World’s Columbian Exposition held at Chicago in 1893, she showed an enlargement of this photograph as well as a 'life-sized’ portrait of the Hon. Stafford Bird; the Women’s Work Committee noted with satisfaction that she had 'performed all stages in the work’. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1892, 'Faustine’ commented that Praeger’s photographs had 'a pleasantly artistic sentiment about them that a mere mechanician cannot give us’.
It was in individual portrait photographs that Laura Praeger showed her greatest skill. Seven remain in the Mitchell Library’s collections, each displaying a revealing sensitivity to character. Taken three-quarter or head-and-shoulder length, the sitters appear at ease with both camera and photographer. Her side-lit photograph of Sir Alfred Stephen at his writing desk, often reproduced as an engraving in the press, was described by the Illustrated Sydney News (16 June 1983) as 'decidedly the best that the aged statesman has yet had taken’. In 1895, as Mrs Harland, she exhibited a 'painting’ of Sir Alfred Stephen at the Women’s College Exhibition (SU) which the Herald described as 'excellent both as to likeness and manner’. It most probably was a painted enlargement of her 1893 photograph (often called paintings at the time) but may have been an original portrait; as Mme Praeger, she often described herself as 'artist [i.e. painter] and photographer’.
It is her portraits of Lady Windeyer ( see Ethel Stephens) and Louisa Macdonald, Principal of Women’s College, which present Praeger’s ability to capture personality and individuality most strikingly. Both women look directly into the camera with a confidence, alertness and humour often lacking in contemporary presentations of female subjects. Much of this understanding between photographer and subject must have resulted from a familiarity which Madame Praeger encouraged by involving herself in the social rituals of the Sydney elite. In March 1893, for example, she held an afternoon tea for selected ladies and gentlemen to show portraits at her new William Street studio. This subtle combination of fraternising and advertising enabled Madame Praeger to strike a fine balance between business and art, professionalism and feminine accomplishment.