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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Thomas Sims

Dates:  1826 - 1910
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

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

Inspired by the new art growing up around him but short on financial resources, Sims made a camera with cigar boxes and fitted it with a simple meniscus lens. On September 20, 1847, after many trials, he finally recorded his first successful negative. Sims met Robert Hunt and heard Antoine Claudet lecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in his hometown of Swansea in 1845. Four years later he married Frances, the sister of Alfred Wallace, the famous naturalist, and later did photographic work for him. Wallace owned a whole-plate daguerreotype apparatus purchased in Paris, to which Sims, as quoted by Ernest Ashton, “became literally a slave for years.” He attempted opening a daguerreotype studio in Weston-super-Mare, found it unproductive, and moved his studio to the grounds of the Natural History Museum in Swansea. During the 1840s the calotype and the daguerreotype both interested him, but, starting with his entry in the 1852 Society of Arts exhibition, he turned to collodion negatives in order to combine the detail of the metal process with the convenience and versatility of paper. Sims opened a studio near Regent’s Park in London in 1853 and promptly heard from Talbot’s attorneys that he was infringing on Talbot’s patent and would be prosecuted. Sims closed his studio, and his own case never made it to court. The acquittal of Sylvester LaRoche, who worked in collodion, effectively broke Talbot’s patent, and Sims soon re-opened his studio. In 1868 he moved to Tunbridge Wells, continuing as a photographer until the end of his life. As Ashton wrote in his 1930 memoir, “Sims was a man of great energy in worldly affairs, and was also an exceedingly active experimenter in the photographic processes of the very earliest days.” The memoir drew on Sims’s manuscript autobiography and a “large quantity of manuscripts . . . together with many specimens of photographic work.” Sadly, this archive, potentially a rich source of information on early photography, is not known to have survived past this point. 
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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