Dublin: De Búrca, 2001. Demy quarto. pp. xii, 44 (plates). New. Hardback in dust jacket. A Photograph 'speaks' for itself through the language of vision, but in an entirely different way from any other graphic medium. Over the past 160 years photographs have become part of the con- ceptual world in the same way that artefacts are part of our perceptual world. However, photographs become the stuff of history only when we provide expansion beyond the realms of picture storytelling by referencing written records and artefacts.
This book pieces together the lives and careers of largely forgotten men and women who pushed forward the boundaries of the visual world. From the very start, in 1839, and throughout the nineteenth century, there was no mainstream movement in the art-science called photography. Irish photographers, like their contemporaries elsewhere, not only sustained but also added to the predominant currents along photography's evolutionary path both philosophically and technically. Thanks to long overdue reprints, some of the achievements of Coghill, Grubb and Joly can here be assessed at first hand.
Their story is part of a larger one where patents bedevilled the progress of the calotype for years; commercial rivals struggled to survive; leisured amateurs compiled their albums; the slow and costly daguerreotype mirror went dark, and the difficult to manipulate wet plate collodion process triumphed in adversity until the plates turned dry.
Edward Chandler's no-nonsense prose style, blending scholarship and an infectious passion for his subject, is always enjoyable to read. He is inquisitive, informative, insightful. The selection of plates in the book tells its own story of his feelings for pictorial photography; over the years he has constantly sought recognition for Irish masterworks of this kind. His case for the restoration of the reputation of W. D. Hemphill of Clonmel among the canon of high Victorian wet-plate pictorialists is certainly compelling.
Compelling, too, is the historical narrative with its colourful cast of characters, like Beatty the Belfast engraver, who played a key role in the early years and, who although he lived into the 1890s, has left virtually no photographs behind. Intriguing also is Professor Leone Glukman, who held centre stage among studio daguerreotypists in the 1840s and '50s.
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