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HomeContents > People > Photographers > George Smith Cundell

Dates:  1798 - 1882
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for George Smith Cundell
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Born in Scotland and reverently addressed as “Most Worthy Master” by the great engineer James Nasmyth, Cundell was not only a pioneering calotypist but also critically shaped the direction of paper photography in its early days. A banker, keen politician, and agent for West Indian estates, Cundell was based in London while maintaining important connections in Edinburgh. The most scientific of the Cundell brothers, he published a number of articles on photography, none more influential than “On the Practice of the Calotype Process of Photography” in 1844. Talbot did not intend to shroud the practice of calotypy in obscurity, indeed just the opposite. However, he was not aware of how his own unconscious and habitual traits entered into his expertise, and many who tried to follow his deceptively simple instructions were frustrated in their attempts. In his 1844 article Cundell explained the creation of a calotype negative in a clear, practical, and complete manner. We will never know how many calotypists owed their success to this article, but the testimonials are plentiful. One contemporary quoted in Humphrey’s Journal stated that “Amateurs date their success from the time Mr. Cundell published.” Cundell’s instructions were based on extensive practical experience, for he had produced hundreds of calotype negatives and was a member of the original Edinburgh Calotype Club. Unlike his brother, Henry Cundell, he never participated in public exhibitions. Nevertheless, George Cundell had a major impact on the early history of photography as one of the driving forces behind the groundbreaking and enormous exhibition of photographs at the Society of Arts in 1852. 
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. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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