|1814 - 1854
Dr. Bird displayed his chemical prowess as a child, regularly lecturing and demonstrating on chemistry to his fellow schoolmates. He became an exceptional physician and invented the flexible stethoscope still familiar today. In 1836 Bird was appointed to the chair of natural philosophy at Guy’s Hospital, London. It was in a letter dated March 25, 1839, and published in the Magazine of Natural History, “Observations on the Application of Heliographic or Photogenic Drawing to Botanical Purposes,” that Bird revealed his insight into the new art. A month later, in the Mirror, his text was illustrated by one of the icons of early photography, a woodcut facsimile of a photogenic drawing of ferns, printed in brown ink and as a negative. Bird had displayed interest in the action of light in the 1839 edition of his popular Elements of Natural Philosophy, written before the announcement of photography. In the second edition of 1844, he devoted an entire chapter to photography, expanding this in subsequent editions. Although he never exhibited and none of his own photographs are known to have survived, Puttick and Simpson’s 1856 auction of Bird’s library included not only photographic equipment but also many photographs “by artists of the first eminence,” including Roger Fenton, James D. Robertson, Philip Henry Delamotte, and Hugh Owen.
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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