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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Murray

Dates:  1822 - 1893
Active:  Egypt / Malta / Great Britain

Preparing biographies

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

Coming from an Edinburgh family of lawyers and military men, Murray patterned himself after his older brother and entered the world of engineering. In the 1840s and early 1850s he spent time in Russia and at least three years in Malta. Why he went to Egypt in the early 1850s is not known, but the viceroy’s efforts to improve the transportation systems there provided ample opportunities for engineers. In 1880 Murray recalled, in the British Journal of Photography, that he taught himself photography “entirely from a shilling guide book (published by Messrs. Horne and Thornthwaite), while residing on the banks of the Nile, far from professional assistance.” He taught himself well. In 1856 J. Hogarth offered an extensive portfolio of Murray’s views in Malta and Egypt, accompanied by a text by Joseph Bonami, the prominent Egyptologist. The published views were albumen prints made from Murray’s negatives, although he is known to have made salted paper prints from them himself. A second edition was offered in 1858, this time including only views from Egypt. The Athenaeum was ecstatic, saying, “All previous photographs of Egypt ‘go down’ before the large and finely-wrought views published by Robert Murray, late chief engineer to the Viceroy of Egypt. . . . He has engraved them, by the aid of sunbeams.” Lamenting the loss of antiquities that time and man were continuing to wreak, the reviewer praised “this Vishnu of Art,” who “came in due time, and came to save and to record.” Back in England Murray was elected to the Amateur Photographic Association in 1862. In his inaugural meeting, as reported by the Photographic Journal, he displayed “some very fine Egyptian negatives . . . which were much admired. The negatives are by the Calotype process, and almost rival in sharpness and half-tone the finest collodion plates.” Murray returned to England and became the principal officer for the Board of Trade. He maintained his interest in photography, communicating with the photographic journals into the 1880s. By then mature in his practice, he had concluded, as he wrote in his 1880 article, that “excellence of the resulting negative . . . depends greatly upon an infinity of little things, which can be learnt and appreciated only by an intelligent and thoughtful practice.” Murray died in Plymouth during an influenza epidemic. 
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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