Secure the shadow: Somerset photographers 1839-1939
The Society’s March meeting featured an illustrated talk from Phil Nichols, one of the authors of the 2018 book, Secure the shadow: Somerset photographers 1839-1939. We had contributed to the compilation of the book, and so were keen to hear how our local photographers fitted into the Somerset scene.
Phil’s talk covered the different types of early photographs such as ambrotypes, cartes de visite and postcards, and by showing them side by side we were able to recognise the differences between them. He then introduced us to the pioneers of photographic techniques, such as Daguerre (daguerrotype) and Fox Talbot of Lacock Abbey (calotype). He went on to identify the earliest images taken in Somerset, and the first photographic studio, which was established in Bath in 1841.
The remainder of Phil’s talk was devoted to the lives and work of photographers from the area around Langport. Phil had obviously put a great deal of thought and effort into making the images relevant to the audience, and they were fascinated to see what he had found.
Many of the images he focussed on were from our own digital collection. Although some of the subjects were familiar, Phil explained the research processes he had gone through in his attempts to date the images and identify some of the individuals in them.
In addition to Charles Payne and Edward Bennett from Langport, we also learned about Harry Stone in Drayton, George Bartlett Coggan, who was born in Aller, John Webber, who lived in Wells, William Lenton of Curry Rivel and James Jones, from Somerton. We learned that many had other occupations as well as photography, including one seemingly a jack of all trades, including dentistry. It was common for them to face bankruptcy, some more than once, and it was obviously not a lucrative occupation.
Finally Phil showed us how different companies came to publish the works of different photographers, particularly as postcards, again using as examples many local images.
The impressive amount of research that Phil demonstrated gave us a greater understanding and appreciation of the strength of our own collection, and led several people to buy copies of his book after the talk.