Past Talks

Early Photography and the Local Historian

Date: 20th June 2005
Speaker: Dr John Wilson

The Meeting took place at The Pop-In Centre, Crown Walk, Bicester. Twenty eight members attended.

Bob introduced the speaker, Dr John Wilson whose knowledge of the subject developed from collecting early photographic prints and equipment.


Dr Wilson outlined the impact that photography had from 1839 in a time when the visual image was not widely used. Prints used to illustrate books were a valuable source of visual illustration before photography developed. Photographic principles were known as early as the 15th Century when artists used the camera obscura to aid their drawing techniques. Louis Deguerre developed his unique image process in the 1820’s in Paris but Fox Talbot developed the positive/negative process at Laycock Abbey following this. He obtained rights from The Royal Society which gave him control over development until 1860’s when courts granted freedom for everyone to use the process. In 1846 Fox Talbot published details of his processes in The Arts Union magazine. Early problems caused prints to fade quickly.

During the mid 19th Century local travel guides became increasingly popular. Original photographs were pasted into the books. There was enthusiasm to build up collections of photographs into albums. Photographic records of original documents such as The Domesday Book were available for historians to access for the first time at a reasonable price, an equivalent to the modern photocopy!

Family photograph albums give a unique insight into family life and social conditions of the time. Stereoscopic photographs made their appearance at the Great Exhibition giving a 3D effect to their subjects.

Dr Wilson answered questions at the end of this talk and members present were able to examine the wealth of materials, books and equipment that accompanied a fascinating talk.

Bob thanked Dr Wilson for an informative talk. The Meeting closed at 9:27 pm.