Innovators and Artists, the early pioneers of Photography

The ‘Out of the Ether’ project, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, which is facilitating cataloguing of Victorian British photography is rapidly coming to a close. These last couple of blog posts will try to detail some of the beautiful individual works that are part of the Visual Collections Photographic collection.

What is endlessly fascinating about the early photographic techniques is the experimental nature of the scientific processes evolving alongside the development of the artistic process; a wonderfully happy marriage of chemistry and art producing amazing results.

Lots of the early photographic processes overlapped with one another as they continued to evolve and sought to improve the stability of the resulting image.  What is also interesting is the approach to ‘writing in light’ of some of the earliest practitioners.  For example Nicéphore Niépce and William Henry Fox Talbot were both from a scientific background, both also interested in printing processes and in ways of reproducing the same image multiple times. Others such as Louis Daguerre and Roger Fenton were very much engaged with the artistic practice, perhaps not as concerned with multiple copies but with the resulting individual artwork itself.

Here is a quick trot through some interesting pieces all now discoverable as catalogue records in the University of Manchester Library Search as well as available to view along with all our other wonderful images of early photographs in the Manchester Digital Collections.

A Scrap of Lace, William Fox Talbot, c1850s

Above is a detail of a photographic engraving, entitled ‘A scrap of lace’, c1852 – 1857 by Fox Talbot. William Fox Talbot’s later photographic work concentrated on photomechanical reproduction methods. Fox Talbot also created and patented the photoglyphic engraving process in 1858.

Spring flowers by Mary Dillwyn c1853

This next item is a salt paper print from a glass negative. It is a view of an arrangement of Spring flowers by Mary Dillwyn c1853. Mary was one of Britain’s most notable early female photographers and one of her favourite subjects was flowers. In this early example she chose a difficult subject because green was a notoriously fickle colour for early photographic emulsions to render satisfactorily. In this untrimmed print you see the full extent of the negative, with the bottom right corner seemingly left uncoated for handling.

Lieutenant Colonel Brownrigg, of the Grenadier Guards, with two captured Russian boys; by Roger Fenton, c1856

Up next is an example of Roger Fenton’s Crimean War photography, another salt paper print, c1856 a positive image which would have been produced from a negative. It is Lieutenant Colonel Brownrigg, of the Grenadier Guards, with two captured Russian boys; one standing and one sitting, at the entrance to a tent.

The Simalah Temple, Benares, by John Murray, c1858

Following Fenton is a fine example of waxed paper negative c1858, which would have been used to create a positive image. This is a view of one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganges. The photographer was a Scottish-born doctor, John Murray who created large-format architectural studies and landscapes of northern India in the 1850s and early 1860s.

Finally, a whimsical little item c1850s. Another salt print after an engraving mounted beneath glass and sealed with gold paper on the lid of thick card box. Cream and gold paper with floral decoration covers the sides. It is an early example of the application of photography in the manufacture of souvenirs and memorabilia. The tiara, dress and distinctive hairstyle suggests that the sitter is Empress Eugénie, consort of Napoleon III, whose celebrity status made her a popular subject for little trinkets such as this box and other marketable merchandise.

Trinket box likely featuring Empress Eugénie, consort of Napoleon III, unknown photographer, c1850s

Up next will be some more fantastic examples of daguerreotypes and some wonderful pieces of photo jewellery. But if you can’t wait for the final blog, do follow Library Tammy on IG for updates on what goes on in the Visual Collections office here at The John Rylands Library.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.

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