G. R. Lambert & Co. began with founder Gustav Richard Lambert, who was born in Dresden, Germany in 1846. It is believed he had family connections to the Lambert brothers who operated several successful businesses in Singapore. Information regarding Mr. Lambert's introduction to photography or details of his professional training are unknown, but an advertisement for his first "photographic establishment" was published in The Singapore Daily Times in the spring of 1867. That business, at 1 High Street, appears to have been a short-lived venture, and Mr. Lambert is believed to have returned to Europe for a decade.
In May of 1877, Mr. Lambert returned to Singapore, opening a studio across from Lambert Brothers' Carriage Works, at 30 Orchard Road. By now, the tourist trade in Singapore - comprised mostly of Westerners - was well-established. It proved to be the perfect location for a successful photography business. G. R. Lambert & Co. initially specialized in panoramic views that appealed to its predominantly European clientele, earning it the nickname "Liverpool of the Orient." Many historians would later claim that its photographs of Asian life reflected a distinctly "European bias" that perpetuated Western stereotypes. Nevertheless, the more than 3,000 images captured by G. R. Lambert & Co. provided much of the world with its first introduction to the exotic locale. However, due to the extreme humidity of the region, there was a very small time window during which portraits could be made, from 7 to 11 a.m. Studio operations moved to 430 Orchard Road, and shortly after Mr. Lambert's travels to modern-day Thailand, his firm was named the official photographer of the King of Siam. With this increased prestige, the company became sole photographic documentarian of royal and political events, visitors, and important cultural events. Portraits typically featured Western merchants, government officials, and orchestrated scenes of 'everyday life' designed to appeal to the profitable European tourist market.
Mr. Lambert gradually turned over daily operations to J. C. Es and Alexander Koch, and Mr. Koch eventually assumed sole management of the Singapore facility. Under Mr. Koch's astute leadership, G. R. Lambert & Co. opened a chain of studios throughout Singapore as well as regional galleries in Borneo, Malaysia, Sumatra, and Thailand. Content in the knowledge that his photographic legacy was left in capable hands, Mr. Lambert enjoyed many years of retirement until his death in 1907. Corporate headquarters was moved to 186 Orchard Road, where it remained until the early twentieth century. During its peak, the firm employed more than 40 photographers, assistants, and administrative personnel, and had accumulated thousands of topography views, landscapes and portraits of the Far East countryside and its inhabitants. Several famous European photographers once served as Lambert studio operators, including Charles Blum, Heinrich Ernst, Charles J. Kleingrothe, and H. Stafhell, with the latter duo later opening their own business, Kleingrothe & Stafhell, in 1889.
G. R. Lambert & Co. had a reputation for the highest quality precision images, but the criticism remained that their lenses focused on presenting the views of greatest interest to European consumers without documenting the widespread poverty that might discourage potential Western investments in the region. The firm's albumen prints were later replaced by gelatin-silver prints, and then by platinotypes, which reflect the tremendous technological changes within the photographic industry during this period. However, as times changed, so, too, did the consumer market. Production of postcards and the addition of cameras and supplies, and changing management did little to boost corporate sales. The end of World War I also signaled the end of G. R. Lambert & Co., which closed for good in 1918.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 815-816.
2017 Establishment of G. R. Lambert & Co. (URL: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/6f1eda03-498e-465e-8fee-2596cb40e1e6).
2011 The French in Singapore: An Illustrated History (1819-today) by Maxime Pilon and Danièle Weiler (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet Pte. Ltd.), p. 72.
2017 Kling People (URL: https://www.antipodean.com/pages/books/18204/photograph-singapore-g-r-lambert-co/kling-people).
2001 Singapore: A Pictorial History, 1819-2000 by Gretchen Liu (Surrey, England: RoutledgeCurzon), pp. 91,112-113, 143, 151.
2017 Trans-Asia Photography Review (URL: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tapic/x-7977573.0002.217-00000005/1?chaperone=S-TAPIC-X-7977573.0002.217-00000005+7977573.0002.217-00000005;size=50;subview=detail;view=entry).
2000 Tourism in South and Southeast Asia by C. Michael Hall, Stephen Page (London: Routledge), p. 37.
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