Inspiration Day: Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860


John Murray, Scottish , 1809-1898: The Taj Mahal from the Gateway, 1864, triptych panorama

The National Gallery of Art does it again. In this first exhibition to explore British photography in the 1840s and 1850s – when photographs made from paper negatives (calotypes) flourished, more than 110 photographs are on display for the first time. As SDC said after we walked out from the exhibit, “Can you imagine them organizing an exhibit on Epson prints 100 years from now?” The prints were wonderfully expressive, and imperfect. Even more impressive were that all of the prints were made as contact prints, which means that these photographers were lugging around 500 pounds of equipment sometimes. Of course, most of these photographers were “gentleman-amateurs” who were capable of hiring a retinue to assist them, but still they could have been sitting at home sucking down treacle.

You can see a sampling of some of the works, and read more about them here.

The men were good at entitling their works too: George Wilson Bridges published a monograph entitled, “The Wayworn Wanderer,” (been there!), while Charles Clifford ‘s work was called, “A Photographic Scramble through Spain,” (nice use of alliteration). My favorite though, is this description:

Laden with equipment, these intrepid travellers crisscrossed Europe photographing whatever caught their eye. They were, according to one eminent Victorian observer, true “Pilgrims of the Sun.”

And that, my friends, is what I want to be when I grow up.


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