British photographic history

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The Photographer of Penllergare- a life of John Dillwyn Llewelyn 1810 to 1882

Noel Chanan’s latest hardcover, The Photographer of Penllergare- a life of John Dillwyn Llewelyn 1810 to 1882, is an in-depth, richly illustrated and forensically researched hardcover book. Llewelyn was married to a cousin of William Henry Fox Talbot, the British inventor of photography, and consequently became an inspired pioneer of photography from the 1850s. In addition to being an accomplished photographer, he was a highly productive polymath, benevolent landowner and a driving force in social and economic change around him in South Wales and London. Far from being a mere coffee table book, the scholarly endeavour employed to enrich the images and narrative, results in a rewardingly revealing history with oft times touching tales of sadness and joy.

Critically, the book engages with the photographic object, its processes and production, reflecting the sense of consideration, appreciation and commitment that Llewelyn appears to have applied to every facet of his life. It is a large format volume measuring 290 mm x 256 mm containing 276 pages which are steeped in the visual and literal history surrounding Llewelyn family. The 235 images, 160 of which are photographs, contain a range of facsimiles of watercolours, salted paper prints, daguerreotypes and albumen prints. The choice of images describes the life and times of a wealthy family in a bygone era as well as Llewelyn’s deliberate and consistent exploration and development in photographic genres. Excerpts from the family’s diaries stretching over three generations engage the reader in the real life experiences of his family in Swansea in the 1800s.

The photographs are clearly labelled and located appropriately to the text with additional detailed descriptions of the images relating to the titles, medium of reception, medium of print, and dimensions in the appendices giving appropriate significance to the processes he used. The photographs themselves are displayed in their present condition often showing evidence of damage but also how the photos were used: corners cut off and albums, paper scraps used in experiments and general wear and tear. The tonal shifts from one image to the next indicate the author’s determination to reflect each image in as close to its true state as possible. The comprehensive footnotes, detailed timeline and family trees complement the narrative historical content.

This volume weaves together a diverse range of elements that record the rich detail, dark shadows and joyous highlights of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a revisualisation of the life of one who made a significant contribution to early photography. It is a smorgasbord of fascinating narratives that can be dipped into or consumed from cover to cover.

Janine Freeston

The Photographer of Penllergare- a life of John Dillwyn Llewelyn 1810 to 1882

by Noel Chanan

Details of the book's availability can be found here:

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Comment by Tony Richards on March 28, 2013 at 21:02

Excellent, been waiting for this to be published. Will be getting my copy asap.

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