William Mervyn Lawrence (1840-1932) was an entrepreneur who recognised the commercial potential of photography and opened a photography studio on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) in Dublin in 1865 where he employed photographers, printers, colourists, retouchers and sales personnel. Though not a photographer himself, his business thrived. As indicated by the advertisement from the 1890s, tourists were an important market. The wide range of topographical views of Ireland taken by Robert French for the firm were particularly profitable in the form of postcards and souvenirs.
Lawrence retired in 1916 and ownership of the firm passed to his youngest son, also William. Within weeks, the Easter Rising had broken out and the Lawrence shop was among the first to be looted. The portrait negatives which were housed in the Sackville Street premises were destroyed but the glass plate negatives of outdoor views were stored in Rathmines and so survived. While continuing for another quarter of a century the business struggled in the face of competition from Kodak box brownies and closed in December 1943.
Robert French began working in the Lawrence photographic studio in the early 1860s, and left the firm in 1914. Over his long career, he was the chief photographer responsible for photographing approximately three quarters of the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Collection. He specialised in outdoor views and captured images of almost every small village in Ireland.