by Antoine Claudet, 1844

The year 1839 marked the start of photography as we know it today. Both Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) and William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) had been experimenting independently for several years on their different photographic processes when Daguerre announced his discovery to the world in Paris on 7 January 1839.

This prompted Talbot to display the results of his negative/positive process to the Royal Institution in London (the same organization as today presents the BBC Christmas Lectures) on 25 January 1839. He then presented a Paper to the Royal Society on 31 January 1839, describing his process as “photogenic drawing.”

Talbot sent examples of his work in early February 1839 to Sir David Brewster, who was later to become the first President of the Photographic Society of Scotland (PSS) and an Honorary Member of Edinburgh Photographic Society (EPS).

Many people did not take to Daguerreotypes, as they thought they were too stark, too unflattering – too real, as there was none of the softening of imperfections previously available in portraiture. In fact, the Illustrated London News reported that when Wellington was shown the finished Daguerreotype of himself, above, “He looked at it for a moment, shook his head, and, with a half smile and half frown of recognition, muttered ‘Very old! Hum!’ and turned away in thought.”

The Daguerreotype of Wellington was taken by Claudet, a Frenchman who had studied under Daguerre and who later set up studios in London. It has been estimated that he made up to 1,800 pictures per year.

Ada Lovelace by Claudet, 1843

The announcements about photographic techniques by Talbot and Daguerre were made about eighteen months into the reign of Queen Victoria, and about eighteen months before she married Prince Albert. Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became keen enthusiasts of photography and collectors of photographs. Prince Albert became the first Patron of PSS. He died in the year that EPS was established.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 1854

The image above of the Queen and Prince Albert was made by John Jabez Edwin Mayall (17 Sept 1813 – 6 March 1901) a British daguerreotypist who began his career in Philadelphia. With his partner, Samuel Van Loan, Mayall operated from 140 Chestnut Street in 1845-6, until his return to London, where he opened, at 433 The Strand, ‘The American Daguerreotype Institution’, styling himself ‘Professor High-School’ (or Highschool). Photographer by appointment to Queen Victoria and creator of iconic images of 19th-century Britain and British notables, Mayall ran numerous studios in London and later Brighton, where he became mayor in 1877. Several of his sons also became photographers, using the business name Mayall.

John Jabez Edwin Mayall, self portrait, 1844


Caroline Herschel by Mayall, 1853
Princess Alice by Mayall, 1861
Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Mayall, National Portrait Gallery
Princess Alexandra in her wedding gown, Mayall, 1863


You will find The Daguerreian Society website here.


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