|Dates: ||1816 - 1866|
|Died: ||Emgland, Cambridge|
Kater’s father was the scientist Henry Kater, famous for his precision in designing instruments, and his mother, Mary, was a well-known author. Kater grew up in a household that welcomed scientific visitors such as Mary Somerville and William Hyde Wollaston. He himself became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1840; he was also a fellow of the Statistical Society and a member of the Royal Institution. A landed proprietor in Mexborough, Yorkshire, Kater enjoyed the means to pursue a life of scientific and literary pursuits. He joined the Calotype Club in the 1840s, becoming a vice president of the Photographic Society when it was formed. In 1852 Kater’s “Proof of the Value of Photography to the Archaeologist” appeared in Notes and Queries. He had recently returned from photographing the ancient ruins of Paestum in southern Italy, anxious to preserve the subtlest features of the site, including carvings barely discernible to the naked eye, before they were lost to the passage of time. Kater’s guide pointed him to the carved effigy of “the Sirena Paestana,” but try as he might, he could not make out the faded portrait of a woman holding a rose. However, when he developed his calotypes back in Salerno, he could see the figure distinctly: “By aid of a glass, the doll-like figure, worn and much obliterated, was very apparent. I believe that many interesting little morceaux would be detected by archaeologists during a quiet study of their photographs at home which escaped them in the originals.” Kater advised the government on the use of photography by the military and tried mightily to salvage the position of photography in the 1862 International Exhibition in London. Kater died suddenly at the age of fifty while on a visit to Cambridge, a loss keenly felt in the scientific and photographic communities.
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012.
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