Sir John Herschel

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Sir John Herschel was a scientist and astronomer like his father, Sir William Herschel. In 1809 he entered the University of Cambridge; in 1812 he submitted his first mathematical paper to the Royal Society, of which he was elected a fellow the following year. An accomplished chemist, Herschel discovered the action of hyposulfite of soda on otherwise insoluble silver salts in 1819, which led to the use of “hypo” as a fixing agent in photography. In 1839, independently of William Henry Fox Talbot, Herschel also invented a photographic process using sensitized paper. It was Herschel who coined the use of the terms photographypositive, and negative to refer to photographic images.  

In 1820 Herschel became a founding member of the Royal Astronomical Society. From 1833 until 1838, his astronomical investigations brought him and his family to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, where he met Julia Margaret Cameron, who became a lifelong friend. In 1850 Herschel was appointed master of the Mint, but he resigned six years later due to poor health. His remaining years were spent working on his catalogs of double stars and of nebulae and star clusters.

 

Some of his work:

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Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

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On January 7, 1839, members of the French Académie des Sciences were shown products of an invention that would forever change the nature of visual representation: photography. The astonishingly precise pictures they saw were the work of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), a Romantic painter and printmaker most famous until then as the proprietor of the Diorama, a popular Parisian spectacle featuring theatrical painting and lighting effects. Each daguerreotype (as Daguerre dubbed his invention) was a one-of-a-kind image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper.

He worked with Nicéphore Niépce, on how to make a permanent image using light and chemistry—and who had achieved primitive but real results as early as 1826. By the time Niépce died in 1833, the partners had yet to come up with a practical, reliable process.

Not until 1838 had Daguerre’s continued experiments progressed to the point where he felt comfortable showing examples of the new medium to selected artists and scientists in the hope of lining up investors.

Each daguerreotype is a remarkably detailed, one-of-a-kind photographic image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, sensitized with iodine vapors, exposed in a large box camera, developed in mercury fumes, and stabilized (or fixed) with salt water or “hypo” (sodium thiosulphate).

From the moment of its birth, photography had a dual character—as a medium of artistic expression and as a powerful scientific tool—and Daguerre promoted his invention on both fronts. Several of his earliest plates were still-life compositions of plaster casts after antique sculpture—an ideal subject since the white casts reflected light well, were immobile during long exposures, and lent, by association, the aura of “art” to pictures made by mechanical means.

Neither Daguerre’s microscopic nor his telescopic daguerreotypes survive, for on March 8, 1839, the Diorama—and with it Daguerre’s laboratory—burned to the ground, destroying the inventor’s written records and the bulk of his early experimental works.

Fewer than twenty-five photographs by Daguerre survive…

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William Henry Fox Talbot

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He was also a frustrated artist, in the mid 1800s (1800–1877 to be exact). He was a  graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and when his photo discoveries started he had  recently been elected as a Liberal member of Parliament in the House of Commons. He like many of the other inventors of this  time was a true polymath. He did mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and botany, philosophy, philology, Egyptology, AND art history.

His motivation was that his camera lucida never let him accurately capture the world. It wasn’t  his own feeble drawings, rather he recalled with pleasure “the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus—fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away.”  He wanted to know how to make these natural images imprint THEMSELVES onto paper. Forever. He wanted to know why it wasn’t possible.

In early 1834 he began to experiment with the idea that had occurred to him, he found that a sheet of fine writing paper, coated with salt and brushed with a solution of silver nitrate, darkened in the sun, and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening or fading.

Talbot used this discovery to make precise tracings of botanical specimens: he set a pressed leaf or plant on a piece of sensitized paper, covered it with a sheet of glass, and set it in the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened, but wherever the plant blocked the light, it remained white. He called his new discovery “the art of photogenic drawing.” (think about the old cyanotype)

As his chemistry improved, Talbot returned to his original idea of photographic images made in a camera. During the “brilliant summer of 1835,” he took full advantage of the unusually abundant sunshine and placed pieces of sensitized photogenic drawing paper in miniature cameras.

Occupied with other activities, Talbot worked little on his invention between the sunny days of 1835 and January 1839, when the stunning news arrived that a Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, had invented a wholly different means of recording camera pictures with dazzling precision on metal plates.

On September 23, 1840, he found a way. He discovered that an exposure of mere seconds, leaving no visible trace on the chemically treated paper, nonetheless left a latent image that could be brought out with the application of an “exciting liquid” (essentially a solution of gallic acid). This discovery, was called the “calotype” process (from the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful), opened up a whole new world of possible subjects for photography.

Talbot’s early photogenic drawings are so ephemeral that, despite their exceptional beauty, they can never be exhibited or exposed to light without risk of change.

Remember he called the work “the pencil of nature”

 

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