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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Bingham

Born: Robert Jefferson Bingham 
Other: Bingham 
Other: Robert J. Bingham 
Dates:  1824 - 1870, 21 February
Born:  Great Britain, Leicestershire, Billesdon
Active:  Great Britain / France

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Approved biography for Robert Bingham
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Beyond the fact that he was born in Leicester, nothing is known of Bingham until the early 1840s, by which time he was a chemical assistant and lecturer at the London Institute. When the author of the popular book Photogenic Manipulation died unexpectedly in 1847, Bingham was asked to take over the new edition, and he steadily revised and expanded the book through the fifth edition in 1854. Bingham exhibited calotype landscapes in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and continued actively exhibiting calotypes in Britain through 1854. His larger connection with the exhibition was in printing many of the photographs used to illustrate the Reports by the Juries; previously unsuccessful in negotiating a license from Talbot, Bingham eventually became a foe of the inventor, producing the prints in France in order to circumvent the patent. He moved to Jersey in 1851, but soon made Paris the base of his operations. Bingham was the first to fully recognize the emerging commercial market for photographic copies of works of art. He purchased copyrights and became the preeminent reproduction artist of his day, proudly exhibiting his copies in Parisian exhibitions and winning much praise. In the period of 1857-64, Bingham also exhibited dozens of art reproductions (all done in collodion) in his native Britain. In 1862 Prince Albert commissioned him to photograph the Raphaels in the Louvre. Bingham died suddenly in Brussels. He is remembered more fondly in France than in the country of his birth. 
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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“One little fellow, for instance, with a long thin neck, in a wheel chair, was splendid. That carpenter's shop with those two old men and a view of the cool green garden was just the thing, like Bingham's photograph of that little picture by Meissonier, those two priests sitting at the table drinking. Perhaps you know what I mean.”
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo, June, 1886. (Robert Harrison (ed.), Johanna van Gogh-Bonger (trans.) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Bulfinch, 1991)
Robert Bingham was born around March, 1824 in Billesdon, Leicestershire. He studied chemistry and is sometimes described as having been an assistant to Michael Faraday though this is not confirmed. He authored the 1851 edition of George Knight’s Photographic Manual. In correspondence with lawyers and colleagues over the breaching of his calotype patent, William Fox Talbot occasionally mentions Bingham as one among several who have (illegally, in Talbot’s view) been given licences to produce photographs using the process. In 1851 or ’52 he moved to Paris and opened a studio specializing in the photographing of artworks.
Although Frederick Scott Archer is acknowledged as the inventor of the wet collodion process, Bingham was aware of its potential and described its possibilities in 1847. This explains the claim on the back of his photographs that he is the inventor of the process.
During the 1860s, at the height of his popularity, the painter Ernest Messonier insisted that only Bingham could photograph his work. Philippe Burty published a pamphlet, L’Oeuvre de M. Messonier et les photographies de M. Bingham in 1862, cataloguing their collaboration to that point.
[Kindly contributed by John Toohey, June 2009]
Some of William Fox Talbot's correspondence regarding Bingham can be found at and other references at the Fox Talbot correspondence pages at  
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