British photographic history

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Symposium: Turning Over An Old Leaf: Thomas Wedgwood, Humphry Davy, and Their Early Experiments

UPDATE 28/10/2013: This event has been cancelled. 

On 5 December 2013 the Getty Conservation Institute is holding a one-day symposium Turning Over An Old Leaf: Thomas Wedgwood, Humphry Davy, and Their Early Experiments in Photography. 

The first published article on photography "An Account of a method of copying Paintings upon Glass, and of making Profiles, by the agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver. Invented by T. Wedgwood, ESQ. With Observations by H. Davy" was published in 1802 by Humphry Davy in the Journals of the Royal Institution.

In his article, Davy described his and Thomas Wedgwood's pioneering work experimenting with light-sensitive materials, creating photographic copies of plant leaves, and testing the feasibility of creating "views from nature" using a camera obscura. Generations of photography historians have searched for any material sample of Wedgwood and Davy's experiments, as these photographic images, if found and authenticated, would be nearly a quarter of a century older than Niepce's "First Photograph."

In April 2008, a photographic image known as The Leaf was placed for auction. The image attracted a great deal of interest from photography experts and enthusiasts when questions were raised about its origins. The Leaf was subsequently removed from auction for further research.

Turning Over An Old Leaf will present results of recently completed scientific analyses by GCI scientists of The Leaf and results from analyses of two botanical images from the Getty Museum's collection that once belonged to the same album as The Leaf, an album of photographic images assembled by British watercolorist Henry Bright.

Conservation scientists and conservators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art will present results from their analytical study of Shark Egg Case, an image from their collection that was also part of the album assembled by Bright.

These scientific results and findings will be discussed in light of current advances in historical research of the Henry Bright album and in light of a series of experimental scientific, photographic, and recreational studies of the photographic work of Thomas Wedgwood and Humphry Davy as described in their 1802 article. In addition, demonstrations will be held to provide symposium participants with a deeper insight into photographic experiments from this important era of the prehistory of photography.


List of Scheduled Presenters

Geoffrey Batchen, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Roy Flukinger, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin

Michael Gray, Image Research Associates, United Kingdom

Art Kaplan, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles

Nora Kennedy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jill Quasha, Private Photography Dealer, New York

Grant Romer, Independent historian of photography, Rochester

Larry J. Schaaf, Independent historian of photogrpahy, Baltimore

Dusan Stulik, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles

Frances Terpak, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles


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Comment by Michael Pritchard on January 25, 2014 at 8:10

My understanding is that some staff changes and internal issues at the GCI caused the cancellation. Others may know more or be prepared to comment in more detail.

Comment by Martha Mahard on January 24, 2014 at 16:54

I should have started here obviously - I have been trying to find out whether anything had been published about this symposium - any idea why it was cancelled and whether it might be rescheduled? My students asked about it and I thought I should try to find out! 

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