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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Richard W. Thomas

Born: Richard Williams Thomas 
Active:  Italy
Chemist and amateur photographer who visited Rome in 1852 and on his return wrote an article "Photography in Rome" (The Art Journal, May 1852). The article described the group of intellectuals and calotypists that were working in the city - the group is now known as the "Roman Photographic School". He had an address at 10, Pall Mall in 1853 (Notes and Queries, Nov. 5. 1853, p.457)

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Approved biography for Richard W. Thomas
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Thomas was a London chemist, one of the first to specialize in supplying the growing ranks of photographers. He was an early member of the Photographic Society when it was formed in the 1850s. Thomas became the premier supplier of collodion later in the 1850s, and his name is mainly associated with negatives on glass. However, in 1852 Thomas made a four-month journey to Italy, and his report to the Art-Journal makes clear that photography was foremost in his attentions. Thomas wrote, “When I left England I could make a good negative on paper by the usual method intro-duced by Mr. Fox Talbot, and, consequently, with much expectation of success, prepared a large quantity of iodised paper.” One can imagine his chagrin as the paper failed time after time, until Thomas tore up fifty unsatisfactory negatives. He had gone to see “Mr. Robinson, well known to all artists and amateurs of every denomination in Rome. I cannot speak too highly of his courteous bearing towards a stranger who introduces himself as a follower of his favourite pursuit.” Robinson and others in Frédéric Flacheron’s circle said they had not succeeded with the dry process. Thomas then went to Tivoli and worked for ten days with Giacomo Caneva. Adopting his damp-paper process, Thomas succeeded in every negative, especially at Pompeii. The generous “Mr. Robinson” has yet to be identified and may have been a British calotypist. Thomas returned to a London that soon demanded all of his time in the manufacture of collodion. His son, also Richard Williams, became a London photographer and a fellow of the Photographic Society. 
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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