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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William Blair

Dates:  1817 - 1871
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for William Blair
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

The triumph of collodion on glass was complete by 1870, but many remembered the convenience of paper negatives to the tourist and other travelers. One who sought to merge these worlds, with more success than others, was William Blair. In September 1871 the Photographic News recalled that “as an experimentalist, Mr. Blair was distinguished by rare ingenuity, care, and perseverance, added to a large inventive faculty.” Keenly interested in permanent printing processes, Blair freely published in the Photographic News his process for coating collodion onto paper to use in making a negative. While this did preserve the portability and convenience of paper, the images were recorded in a fundamentally different way. With calotypes and waxed-paper negatives, the image was embedded in the fibers of the paper; in Blair’s process it was made in the surface coating, a process conceptually similar to modern emulsions. In a subsequent communication with the journal in February 1871, Blair wrote of his disillusionment with modern papers, finding that he succeeded “best with some very old prepared paper that I had had lying past for some years.” (He was probably unaware that three decades earlier, Talbot had also sought out old paper.) After Blair died saving one of his sons from drowning, a grateful photographic community took up a subscription for his family in recognition of all that he had done to advance the art. 
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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