Images of Old

I’ve already lived through several generations of photography. My parents had a little Brownie box, and then I graduated to an SLR; we all had Polaroids of one kind or another, abandoned for digital a decade back; and now we have digital-SLRs and telephone cams.

Of course, this sequence is just the latest in the surprisingly long history of photography. While the work of Fox Talbot and Dageurre from the 1830s and 1840s is quite well known, the latest thought is that experiments could go back a further generation, to the 1790s.

A print, “The Leaf”, due for auction, is now thought to be connected to Thomas Wedgwood and Henry Bright who were experimenting with “solar images”. Humphrey Davy (famous as the inventor of the miners’ safety lamp) wrote about these images in 1802.

Jill Quasha is the photo dealer and expert who bought “The Leaf” in 1989 as she was building the Quillan Collection, a group of world-renowned photographs that Sotheby’s sold (without the leaf print) for almost $9 million on April 7. She said that it was still too early to say exactly what type of research would be conducted on the image. Tests could include those to determine the age of the paper and to identify the chemical makeup of any substances on the paper. “I think it has to be done quickly and efficiently and with the least amount of damage to the photograph,” said Ms. Quasha, who added that she hoped the research could be completed within six months so that the print could be put up for auction again with a more iron-clad, and perhaps stunning, provenance. (As a Talbot, it was estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000; if it is determined to be older, it could bring substantially more.)

Interesting stuff for those us who follow cultural beginnings.

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