John Rapson

1923 – 2020

John Lewis Rapson (1923-2020) was a prolific and highly-regarded photographer based in Liskeard. He was well known for shooting weddings, portraits and press events for the Cornish Times, while documenting the town with his images and written articles. Liskeard and District Museum is home to the John Rapson Collection and this online exhibition tells his story.

John Rapson becoming a Cornish Bard

Early Life

Rapson discovered an interest in photography during his RAF service in WWII. Before leaving for home, he acquired a Zeiss Contax 35mm Camera in Germany by trading 1000 of his cigarettes.

On his return to Liskeard, Rapson set about constructing an enlarger to increase the size of his negatives and obtained the equipment necessary to develop his film. The love affair with photography had begun in earnest.

Rapson setting up his equipment at a wedding

The Photography Business Begins

Rapson’s first commission was the Golden Wedding of a Mr & Mrs Heale of Station Road. The photos came out well, and his father suggested that they should be displayed in his Butcher Shop’s window.

Soon, locals became interested and requests for his services were increasing. By 1952, the clamour had grown so much that his father allowed the family dining room to become a Photographic Shop. A darkroom was set up in the rear and he hired his first assistant, Roma Webb, to keep up with demand.

Taking Over Coath’s Studio

The next step was to approach photography giants Kodak, to see if they would grant him a Dealership. Naturally, they did and the photo shop began to sell Black and White cameras – colour was not yet readily available.

When Mr Charles Coath of Fore Street was retiring, Rapson enquired about renting his studio. The space became the new home of his work and here he would photograph many weddings from the ‘Daylight Studio’ at the top of the building.

A selection of Rapson’s photos below:

Rapson’s Cameras

Ever the experimenter, Rapson initially used the Marion Excelsior, a large plate camera which can be seen in the Museum, and developed the plates in the dark room. Later, he used Roll film cameras, usually the Rolleiflex twin lens reflex.

The Fore Street studio would eventually be swapped for a larger one on the first floor at Windsor Place, a fixture of the town for many productive years.

Life Outside of Photography

In his personal life, Rapson was an active member of Liskeard & District Old Cornwall Society and was made Cornish Bard for his legacy as ‘Recorder of Buildings’. A portion of his collection was used to illustrate the 2010 book, ‘The Life and Work of Henry Rice: Liskeard’s Foremost Architect’.

Come and visit Liskeard and District Museum to see more of the John Rapson Collection, featuring photos, cameras and more.