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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Percy

Dates:  1817 - 1889
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

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

Trained as a medical doctor at Edinburgh, Percy received his degree in 1839, the same year photography was introduced to the public. Additional medical training in Paris brought him into contact with leading French chemists, at just the time when interest in the processes of photography was developing rapidly. Percy then practiced in Birmingham, an industrial center dependent on the metals that were to shape Percy’s life. Although his 1847 fellowship in the Royal Society was granted in recognition of his medical research, Percy’s interests had already turned toward metallurgy. In 1848 he devised a process for extracting silver from low-grade ores, using the same hypo so crucial to photography. Percy’s treatise was the first and for some time the standard one on this important subject. Birmingham was also a center of photographic activity, and by the time of the 1852 exhibition at the Society of Arts, Percy had become an enthusiastic calotypist. He contributed two calotypes of trees to the Photographic Exchange Club in 1855. Percy was a pivotal figure in the formation of the Photographic Society, and at its very first ordinary meeting in February 1853 he read a paper, “Upon the Waxed-Paper Process as Applicable to Hot Climates.” In 1855, the problem of prints fading had become widely recognized, and Percy played a leading role in the Photographic Exchange Club’s Positive Printing Committee, whose recommendations alleviated this devastating shortcoming. By 1856 Percy had mastered large wet-collodion plates and photographed North Devon locations that had been painted by his friends Edwin Landseer, George Fripp, and Frederick Henshaw; he often duplicated exact viewpoints, making for illuminating comparisons in subsequent exhibitions. His interest in metals eventually lured him away from active photography. He was an avid collector of watercolors, minerals, and metallurgical examples. Two days before Percy died, the Prince of Wales conferred on him the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts. In receiving this award, Percy said, “My work is done.” More than 3,700 of his carefully labeled specimens were purchased from his estate by the Science Museum, London. 
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.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

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