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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Forbes White

Dates:  1831 - 1904
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for John Forbes White
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

White and Thomas Keith, who married sisters, had already shared a passion for waxed-paper photography. Born in Aberdeen, White was identified as an exceptional student by the age of thirteen — his classics professor, as a 1918 biography of him records, gave him a Greek name meaning “the shining one.” White moved to Edinburgh to study medicine, and by the summer of 1853 he and Keith were photographing together. Their landscapes and architectural subjects are virtually indistinguishable in selection and mastery. Both of their views of Melrose Abbey were singled out for praise in the 1853 Aberdeen exhibition. In the 1857 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland, White showed views from a photographic expedition in England and was praised for his “artistic skill & handling.” White was the driving force behind the 1859 exhibition in Aberdeen that was held in connection with the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, where he showed nine of his own waxed-paper views. But this exhibi-tion was to be his last public showing and the last one for his friend Thomas Keith as well. The death of White’s missionary brother had forced him to give up medicine in order to take over the family milling business in Aberdeen. White’s real devotion, however, was to the world of art. He became an important collector of paintings, particularly of Dutch art, and White’s home in Aberdeen was a regular gathering place for Scottish artists. The editor of the Enclyclopedia Britannica, accepting his extensive essays on Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Velázquez, wrote, “Mr. White is not a scholar, he doesn’t pretend to be one, but he is one of the most scholarly men I know.” 
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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