|Dates: ||1825 - 1912|
An optician, philosophical instrument maker, and fishing rod maker in Dundee, Lowdon (sometimes Lowden) vividly recalled having been drawn to science at an early age. “I was,” he reminisced in the Dundee Advertiser, “aided considerably by my father, who, though a grocer to trade, was a good mechanic and had many mechanical tools which he was able to use cleverly in making various articles. Hence I may say that I was born with tools at my finger-ends and a turning-lathe at my bedside. Even at that time my father had successfully ground and polished lenses of different kinds; so naturally I took to . . . making scientific instruments.” After working in a flax factory, Lowdon opened an optician’s business in 1849, just as photography was poised to become a major artistic and commercial phenomenon. Meeting Sir David Brewster through Lord Kinnaird, he was selected to manufacture Brewster’s newly invented stereoscope. Lowdon also imported a daguerreotype apparatus from Paris and was the first to show examples of the process in Dundee. He would have had plenty of opportunities to learn about calotypy in nearby St. Andrews, but Lowdon confessed that, perhaps surprisingly, his initial attempt at paper photography in 1846 was a failure. Three years later he tried again, this time successfully, recalling in the Dundee Advertiser that “since that period I have taken pictures and made many cameras and given instruction to a large number of professionals and amateurs.” Lowdon was commissioned to build a “jumbo microscope” for the Great Exhibition of 1851; standing four feet high and incorporating a “photographic slide for Fox-Talbot paper,” it unfortunately arrived too late to be displayed. His only recorded public showing of his photographs was in the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in Dundee, for which he contributed seven waxed-paper views of the Dundee area and waxed-paper negative copies of thirty-two engravings. While it cannot be confirmed, Lowdon claimed that he was the first to teach photography to George Washington Wilson, the Aberdeen photographer who developed an enormous business in views
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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