British photographic history

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The First Frederick Scott Archer Biography

Included in the 'Catchers of the Light' - a History of Astrophotography is a chapter on Frederick Scott Archer. As such it represents the first biography of this much neglected pioneer of photography; based on research into contemporary documentary records, which correct many of the errors and inaccuracies found in the usual sources.

For example, it is usually stated that FSA was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England in 1813, the son of a butcher and that he was orphaned at an early age. All of this is a myth. Primary contemporary records held in the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies office, prove beyond doubt that he was in fact born at Bull Plain, Hertford on the 30th of August 1814.

Although his mother died in 1817 when he was two years old, his father Thomas Archer remarried in 1830 when FSA was fifteen. Furthermore his father was no ordinary butcher, but an influential citizen of Hertford, a wealthy farmer and supplier of meat, who became the town's mayor in 1818. In 1820 Thomas Archer was declared a bankrupt and two years later the subject of a trial at the Assize Court.

New research indicates that FSA was greatly influenced by the landscape artist, J. M. W. Turner and that almost all of his photographic output were the subject of drawings or paintings by this giant of art.

The introduction of the wet collodion process in 1851 by FSA marked the end of the use of the daguerreotype in astronomical photography and in doing launched the next stage in its development: "In 1851 Scott Archer and Dr. Diamond introduced the collodion process in practical form, and this finally prepared the way for such a worker as Mr. De La Rue; for the introduction of the collodion process was an event in photography second only in importance to the discovery by Daguerre in 1839." Lady Margaret Lindsay Murray Huggins, pioneer of astronomical photography, 1889

Only with the introduction of 'mass produced' Gelatino-Bromide 'dry' photographic plates from the late 1870s and early 1880s was Archer's wet collodion process replaced in astronomical photography:

The FSA biography is available here:


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