Photographer’s Own

Paper Negatives from the 1850′s

17 feb—13 apr 2012

London

“If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything.”
Ruth Bernhard
 
What we see here are unique paper negatives from the 1850’s by some of the greatest old master photographers. They are the true originals, created by the light reflecting off the photographed subject. For their beauty, zeitgeist, rarity and provenance they rank amongst the greatest treasures of photography.

The paper negative had its heyday for a brief period in the early days of photography until c. 1860. Because the negative is the plate from which a multitude of positive prints can be made, it normally remained in the photographer’s possession during his lifetime. Only later would it enter into public collections by will of the photo-grapher or the family’s donation. It is rare to find negatives by famous artists such as Le Secq, Nègre, de Beaucorps or de Clercq in private hands.

A negative can be so much more evocative than a positive print. We realize from the blurred movement of the clock’s hand on the picture of the Palazzo Vecchio that it took 3 minutes of exposure time to take the photo, long enough to empty the square of all the people moving about. Their movements made them invisible to the camera. Only the building remains in its static existence with the guard’s rifles leaning against the wall.

Like a printing plate, the photographic negative has long been regarded as a stage in a working process.  Surrealism and other lessons in art have taught us how to look at the more abstract pictures of the world. We have since begun to appreciate the photographic paper negative with its saturated, ominous dark against the ethereal pale as a work of art in its own mysterious beauty!
 
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