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HomeContents > People > Photographers > James Good Tunny

Dates:  1820 - 1887
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for James Good Tunny
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

In 1869 Tunny was remembered as “one of the oldest and most advanced photographers in this country, having been professionally engaged in the art long anterior to the introduction of the collodion process.” He started as a shoe-maker in his native Scotland but was intrigued by chemistry, finding “every new discovery is the unlocking of another of Nature’s boundless storehouses.” In the autumn of 1839 an English friend sent Tunny a newspaper account of Talbot’s fixing an image on paper. The young man immediately dissolved a silver sixpence in nitric acid, made some paper, and went to his neighbor, a Mr. Milne, to use his sketching camera obscura. His first negative took a two-day exposure, but the image of the geranium was captivating, and Milne promptly exhibited it during a natural philosophy lecture. Tunny further observed, in “Reminscences,” “the enthusiasm with which I returned to repeat my experiment can only be appreciated by those who have just soiled their fingers for the first time, in the development of their first negative.” Recalling Hill & Adamson’s calotype studio, Tunny added, “time after time have I gone and stood on the projecting rock below Playfair’s monument on the Calton Hill, and drawn inspiration from viewing Mr. Adamson placing a large square box upon a stand, covering his head with a focussing-cloth, introducing the slide, counting the seconds by his watch, putting the cap on the lens, and retiring to what we now know to be the dark room.” Tunny exhibited a calotype portrait in the 1854 Royal Infirmary Fund exhibition in Dundee and in 1855 was still advertising “Calotype Portraits and Views of Edinburgh.” But both the calotype and the daguerreotype were to give way to wet collodion, of which he was one of the earliest adopters. Tunny became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of Scotland and was later on the council of the Edinburgh Photographic Society. He was very successful commercially and traveled widely to the Continent, the Middle East, and America. He taught many a Scottish gentleman amateur. Tunny’s third wife, Margaret Wilson, was his photographic assistant; her early death in 1877 was widely lamented in the photographic community. A decade later, when he died, Tunny was remembered as being “thorough and enthusiastic in everything he undertook . . . he contributed . . . both by papers on practical topics and vivâ voce utterances.” 
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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