King's College London
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Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century

Photography: a science and a leisure pursuit

Front page filled with advertisements.The photographic news. Volume 9, no. 362. Friday 11 August 1865.The periodical shown here, The photographic news, is concerned with the rapidly developing field of photography and was first published in 1858, at around the time when former King’s professor, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) was formulating his ideas for introducing colour processes into photography.

The many advertisements on the cover and throughout the item indicate a growing market for photographic supplies and goods.

There is a testimonial from the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900) regarding his use of ‘collodion’, a new type of solution used in photographic processes which replaced the daguerreotype, and also an advertisement for ‘cartes-de-visite’ portraits. These miniature portraits became fashionable around this time and were exchanged as visiting cards by friends and colleagues.

Articles in the item include those on the development of photographic techniques (‘A new artificial light for photography’) and on matters of taste. In a letter entitled the ‘Abuse of photography’ a correspondent complains of ‘the rapid progress indecency is making under the shield of the beautiful art of photography’, as he witnesses for sale ‘photographs of women in voluptuous attitudes, with lascivious countenances, in the costume of Mother Eve’.

Throughout the 19th century, periodicals were, as now, an extremely popular medium for the dissemination of knowledge and for keeping people informed of scientific matters and other developments on a regular basis. The format suits a field of study in which advances are being made rapidly and where a debate and exchange of ideas can help to foster these advances. The Foyle Special Collections Library holds many runs of such periodicals.

This item is from the Wheatstone Collection, which was the personal library of Sir Charles Wheatstone, the first appointed professor of experimental philosophy at King's and one of the most renowned scientists of the 19th century.

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