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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William Sherlock

Dates:  1813 - ?
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

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

In 1842, Sherlock approached Talbot to secure a license to practice the calotype commercially in London. Talbot was still supporting henry collen, to whom he had granted a commercial license with exclusive rights, so the negotiations failed. On September 15, 1843, Sherlock sent along with a letter various examples to Talbot “taken in from 20 to 25 seconds with a favorable light but bad apparatus.” Sherlock was learning on his own, for, as he wrote on November 15, he was “quite unaware of the time usually occupied in taking a portrait never having exchanged a word with any-one acquainted with the art or derived any knowledge upon the subject except from the Edinburgh Review and my own perseverance but I feel confident that at another season of the year I could take a portrait in from 5 to 10 sec-onds.” By November his technique had advanced to the point where he could enclose three calotype portraits. Since Talbot refused to license him in London, Sherlock suggested Bristol, Liverpool, and Dublin as possible alternative locations, all without success. Persisting, in September 1844 he sent Talbot a two-print panorama. Sherlock then tried to join in business with Nicolaas Henneman in London, writing to Talbot in March 1846, “In the formation of your projected Establishment I yet hope there may be some situation in which I may be found useful.” Nothing came of this, unless some of the unidentified negatives in Talbot’s archives are by him. Having been a solicitor in London in the early 1840s, Sherlock moved to Devon later in the decade. At the time of the 1851 census he was visiting his father-in-law (a professor of music) in London and still listed his profession as attorney at law. About this time, like Roger Fenton before him, Sherlock decided to give up on the law and to make his life in photography. In the 1852 Society of Arts exhibition in London, Sherlock was one of the major contributors, showing more than forty paper views of archtecture, landscape, and portraiture. He was so well known by 1853 that Pauline Trevelyan referred to him in her diary as “Sherlock the Calotypist.” Sherlock was a regular contributor of paper negative views in various exhibitions through 1855, at which point he converted to collodion and continued to exhibit prolifically, forging a relationship with the London publisher J. Hogarth. The catalogue of the 1856 Norwich Photographic Society exhibition described one of his entries as “a pure photograph.” It was shown in both its original form and a hand-colored version, and was proclaimed the “best in the room.” Likewise, his cloud studies were called “extraordinary.” In 1878 Sherlock’s photographs won bronze, silver, and gold medals at the Paris International Exhibition. He continued to live in Devon through the 1881 census, where at sixty-eight he still identified himself as an active photographer. That is the last known record of him. 
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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