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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Joseph Bancroft Reade

Other: J.B. Reade 
Dates:  1801 - 1871
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Joseph Bancroft Reade
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Born into a strongly religious family but one that mixed mercantile with evangelical interests, Reade was destined for the clergy. As a curate in Halifax in the 1830s, he forged a close friendship with the amateur meteorologist John Waterhouse (whose “Waterhouse stops” would later contribute to photographic lens structure). In December 1839, shortly after photography was announced, Reade accepted the post of vicar of Stone, Buckinghamshire, where there was a small school and an observatory. He had published his first scientific paper, on the relationship between solar rays and heat, in 1836. Reade took a particular interest in the microscope and was an important innovator with this instrument. His interest in chemistry led to an 1846 patent for a metallic salt-based ink. It is certain that Reade began experimenting with photography in 1839 and was an early adopter of Sir John Herschel’s hypo fixing. What is less clear is his work with gallic acid and how it related to Talbot’s autumn 1840 discovery of the calotype, the development of which depended on this derivative of oak galls. Counterclaims between Reade and Talbot were acrimonious but never proven on either side; in 1854 Reade testified against Talbot in the patent trial. In 1855 he joined the Photographic Society, becoming a vice president in the 1860s. His imagination and experimental nature were impressive, and undoubtedly he influenced many early photographers. He was reported to have had an early exchange with the father of Charles Piazzi Smyth. The British Journal of Photography recounted on December 16, 1870, that Admiral Smyth, whose wife was an accomplished artist, dismissed Reade’s early photographs as “a quick mode of taking bad pictures,” to which Reade responded, “True, Admiral; but even you were born a baby.” Very few of Reade’s own photographs survive, and he is not known to have exhibited. His obituary of December 23 noted, “As an astronomer and a naturalist his reputation was of the highest.” 
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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