New Discovery in Photo History

New Discovery in Photo History

This story is so good I couldn't wait until next week to blog about it. The April 17 New York Times ran a story, "An Image is a Mystery for Photo Detectives." This is one mystery I wish I was actively working on. Turns out William Fox Talbot probably...

This story is so good I couldn’t wait until next week to blog about it. The April 17 New York Times ran a story, “An Image is a Mystery for Photo Detectives.” This is one mystery I wish I was actively working on.

Turns out William Fox Talbot probably wasn’t the first person to develop paper images.

There was a circle of friends in England who tinkered with photographic processes as early as the 1790s. While the news doesn’t change when daguerreotypes were patented (1839), this tale of photo detecting focuses on a series of clues relating to who took the images of leaves the New York Times reports on.

I’ve written about provenance, i.e. the trail of ownership of an heirloom or photo, and in this one case it’s key. Photo historians attributed these leaf pictures to Talbot, but now a historian familiar with his work doesn’t believe that to be true. It’s like a Pandora’s Box of photo history. If this one picture isn’t Talbots, then likely several others aren’t attributed properly, too.

It’s a great tale. Sotheby’s is going to auction some of these pieces, but right now photo scholars are trying to figure out the true photographer.

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  1. Wow, this is a breakthrough for genealogists everywhere! It also gives credence to a photo of my great-great-great grandparents! Love your column, keep up the good work!