|Dates: ||1818 - 1904|
Shaw was an exceptional character in the thriving industrial city of Birmingham. The son of a glass seller and sickly in his youth, he was largely self-taught. He was so successful that at the age of twenty he was appointed the professor of chemistry at Queen’s College in that city. Shaw’s vocation was working as a patent agent, which brought him into contact with all the latest scientific and technical advances. He became widely known to the scientists of his day and was fascinated by archaeology. His Manual of Electro-Metallurgy, a pioneering publication, went through several editions. Possessed of an intense interest in art, he formed a collection of engravings by J. W. M. Turner and was a capable watercolorist. In early 1844 Shaw undertook a series of lectures on photography at the Birmingham Philosophical Institution. He wrote to talbot, explaining that he had tried calotype earlier and asking permission to make a public demonstration of the process. Talbot was fully supportive and sent him two groups of his latest photographs to exhibit. Shaw wrote that he found them “particularly beautiful” and noted that although he himself had made some “excellent negative pictures,” good prints from them eluded him. In 1849 he was joint secretary of the Arts and Industrial Exhibition held in Birmingham, and he served as a juror in both the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1862 International Exhibition. By the time of the 1852 Society of Arts Exhibition in London, Shaw was able to exhibit a number of scenic views made with paper negatives. In 1853, Joseph Cundall published two volumes of Shaw’s Photographic Studies; they did not impress the Athenaeum. Shaw continued to contribute to exhibitions, showing seven Talbotype views as late as 1857 at the Birmingham Photographic Society. His calotypes of trees are outstanding examples. Shaw was remembered in his obituary as “a brilliant conversationalist . . . always willing to impart information to others, and he possessed the marvellous faculty of being able to render abstruse subjects clear to the understanding of uninstructed persons.”
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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