Monday, 30 November 2009

Pattinson and the daguerreotype

Hugh Pattinson and the daguerreotype. The beginnings of photography and the first photograph taken in Canada.
Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3ème arrondissement, Daguerréotype by Louis Daguerre (1787-1851).

"At the monthly meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society, on Tuesday last, after the election of members, &c., Mr. H. L. Pattinson gave a minute description of the Dauguerreotype [sic], an invention which was, some time ago, announced as being likely to occasion quite a revolution in art. From Mr. Pattinson's description, however, we should consider it as a process tedious, expensive, and uncertain, and as to its being even a useful auxiliary to the progress of the fine arts, extremely problematical.

Mr. P. exhibited some drawings taken by himself, one of Ravensworth Castle, and two or three views of the Falls of Niagara, which were examined with considerable interest. As a proof of the incertitude attending the invention, we may state that Mr. Pattinson visited the Falls with the intention of bringing away sixty or seventy drawings, but found, on his arrival, that most of the plates were defective, owing to the silver not being pure, and he was obliged to return with a smaller number of drawings than he originally calculated upon.

Mr. Pattinson uses thin copperplates, coated with silver, and highly polished. The defective plates were purchased in New York. Mr. Pattinson lauded the King of the French, for having purchased the secret of M. Daugerre [sic], and thrown it open to the French people, and stated his belief that if our government were to purchase Mr. Talbot's secret, and make it common to the public at large, considerable benefit would be derived from it. ……."  Newcastle Chronicle December 5th 1840

Mr. H. L. Pattinson gave a minute description of the Dauguerreotype [sic], an invention which was, some time ago, announced as being likely to occasion quite a revolution in art.

• Hugh Lee Pattinson, metallurgical chemist and industrialist, born Christmas Day 1796, Alston. His father was a grocer, the family were Quakers.
• By 1821 he was working as a clerk at a soap boiler, Claphams. In 1822 he joined the Lit and Phil before moving back to Alston in 1825 to become assay master to the lords of the manor. Ie he tested the local gold and silver.

Silver and lead
• At this time he began chemical experiments aimed at finding a method for extracting silver from lead ore.
• He devised a method which he patented in 1833.
• Meanwhile he had become the manager of a lead works belonging to Wentworth Beaumont in 1831.

Felling Chemical Works
• Pattinson left in 1834 to open a chemical works in Felling.
• His partners were his uncle John Lee and George Burnett. The works lay between Green Lane and Brewery Lane. Ie near the Gateshead Stadium today.
• It grew to cover 17 acres, had a work force of 1000 and produced lead for paint, soda crystals, caustic soda, bleach and Epsom Salts.

Washington Chemical Works
• Opened 1837 under Pattinson’s sole ownership.
• When the following year the British Association for the advancement of Science held its annual conference in Newcastle, Pattinson was Vice-President and elected a Fellow.
• In 1839-40 he made a trip to America in the hope of business and mining opportunities there.

a minute description of the Dauguerreotype [sic], an invention which was, some time ago, announced as being likely to occasion quite a revolution in art.

What was a daguerreotype?
A small copper plate of about (at its largest) 6x8 inches, one side of which was silver plated.

The silver side was polished like a mirror and then sensitised to light by holding it over a box which contained iodine.

The plate was then put inside a camera and an exposure made.

To make the image appear the plate had then to be held over a box of heated mercury.

To prevent further exposure to light altering the image the plate was washed in salt thereby removing the remaining silver iodide. The plate was then washed and dried.

Non-reproducible: each daguerreotype is unique. The highly detailed imagery was best shown when the plate was manipulated in a cross light.

• Pattinson seems to have spent around £50 acquiring a camera and kit from a New York dealer and chemist.
• Americans had tried to reproduce Daguerre’s experiments in the spring of 1839
• An early enthusiast was Samuel B Morse (of the telegraph/dots and dashes)
• Giroux and Co was a Parisian firm with the rights to make Daguerre-approved equipment.

• François Gouraud was the agent for Giroux in the US.
• He held a number of demonstrations in New York in December 1839.
• Using high quality examples Gouraud appeared to be an expert. Morse and other American enthusiasts were not so sure.
• Americans were hugely enthusiastic. The magazine   the "Knickerbocker," declared the daguerreotype "an instrument destined ultimately, we believe, to be the companion of every man of taste, particularly in his travels"

Niagara April 1840
• Why did he go there?
• Was he ordered there by Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours? Seems unlikely.
• Was he a tourist? More likely as by then the falls were on the tourist trail. Falls were popular among Romantic tourists in early Nineteenth Century. At Niagara local farmers had been “facilitating” the viewing of the falls since at least 1818. There had been a lodge there for visitors since 1827.
• By Spring of 1840 photography was spreading throughout the US however by viewing the Falls from across the border Pattinson takes the honour of having made the first photograph in Canada.

Noël-Marie Paymal Lerebours
• Lerebours was an early teacher and advocate of the new technology. One of his disciples was Antoine Claudet. He demonstrated the process to the Royal Society in London in March 1840 (while Pattinson was in the US)
• Claudet practised in London where he had several studios. He bought the English rights from Daguerre. He photographed the rich and powerful and received plaudits from Queen Victoria. He innovated the chemistry of the process.
• Claudet passed on Pattinson’s images to Lerebours. It is assumed from clues found on the backs of the Pattinson plates that he called in at the shop in London, showed off his Niagara efforts and either purchased or swapped for two of Claudet’s examples.

Note. Among Claudet's photographs is an example in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. Sir Charles Augustus Murray, and his Egyptian servants. 1806 – 1895 taken about 1851. Murray had travelled widely in America in the 1830s living with native Americans. He published a novel in 1844 based on his experience including his forbidden love for a Pawnee squaw who lived near Niagara.  In 1846, he was appointed Consul-general for Egypt.

What happened next?
• Pattinson lived on till 1858. He was one of the organisers of the chemistry exhibits at the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition.
• A large funeral was held on his death and a chapter is devoted to him in the volume Worthies of Cumbria. Neither that account nor his lengthy obituary in the Gateshead Observer mentioned his short photographic career.
• It was said however “Nor, to the latest year of his life did he cease to be a student, but was ever careful to keep pace with the science of the day.”

Further Reading 
Photo: Niagara Falls, 1840 How academics found the first photograph to be taken in Canada 
The University of Newcastle Robinson Library onThe Discovery.
Pattinson's Obituary
Making a Camera Obscura -The Genius of Photography- BBC Four
Edinburgh's Camera Obscura
Dumfries Camera Obscura
Clarke G (1997) The Photograph, Oxford History of Art.
Overell M (2003) American Photography, Oxford History of Art, especially Chapter 3 “Viewing the Landscape”.
Davis K.F. (2007) The origins of American Photography 1839-1885 From Daguerreotype to Dry Plate, Hall Family Foundation.

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