A history of photography, by Robert Leggat: Travel Photography
TRAVEL photography

To appreciate the impact that photography made upon Victorian life one needs to remind oneself what little opportunity there was for any but the rich to visit other lands. Consequently, until photography was used, the majority of people would have needed to rely on the accuracy and integrity of explorers. Photography at last made it possible for a much larger proportion of people to see for themselves pictures of exotic lands afar and thus at least enjoy a vicarious experience; it also gave them an opportunity to realise how incorrect some reports had been.

The invention of photography also coincided with the development of steam boats and the railways.

Claudet waxed lyrical on the new horizons opened up as a result of the work of travel photographers:

"By our fireside we have the advantage of examining (the pictures) without being exposed to the fatigue...and risks of the daring and enterprising artists who, for our gratification and instruction, have traversed lands and seas, crossed rivers and valleys, ascended rocks and mountains with their heavy photographic baggage..."

One needs perhaps to appreciate how hard life as a travel photographer could be. Because the processing had to be done quickly after exposure, photographers on location needed to take away with them an enormous amount of equipment - boxes of plates, bottles galore, and of course the camera. These were the days before enlargers had been introduced, so large cameras, some producing plates size 12" by 16" (30cm by 40cm) had to be transported - and they were pretty heavy.

The following, a report on the exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1871, gives us a flavour:

"The camera in its strong box was a heavy load to carry up the rocks, but it was nothing to the chemical and plate- holder box, which in turn was a featherweight compared with the imitation hand organ which served for a darkroom...."

Some did the journey, returning without any pictures at all...

"The silver bath had got out of order, and the horse bearing the camera fell off a cliff and landed on top of the camera..."

In this connection, though he was a war photographer rather than a travel one, it is worth seeing what Roger Fenton had to cope with when he worked at his photographs on location.

One of the very earliest pioneers was the Rev. George Bridges, who had been taught photography by one of Fox Talbot's assistants, and by 1852 he had produced some 1,500 paper negatives of scenes in the Mediterranean and Egypt.

The major pioneers in travel photography include Maxime Du Camp, Francis Frith, and Francis Bedford, all of whom took photographs in the Middle East. In America John C. Fremont was the first explorer to attempt to make a photographic document of his travels, but on his first attempt in 1842 he failed to get any photographic results. A Baltimore daguerreotypist, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, was also a pioneer.

Interestingly, calotypes continued to be used by some travel photographers, because they were less of an ordeal than collodion. After all, calotypes, for all their imperfections, permitted the photographer to prepare paper negatives at home, expose on location, and then develop upon returning home. Diamond, for example, used the calotype process for some of his travel photographs, though once at home he reverted to collodion for portraiture and for his medical photography.

Other travel photographers include Samuel Bourne, who took particularly striking pictures of Indian architecture, often under very trying conditions, whilst Charles Clifford took some excellent pictures of Spanish architecture. Another photographer who, though sporting an unforgettable name, is almost unknown, is Linnaeus Tripe, who made many interesting photographs of Burma. Also worthy of mention are William Young who photographed in East Africa, Herbert Ponting who covered Captain Scott's expedition, and Lord Carnarvon, who photographed the tomb of Tutankhamen.

© Robert Leggat, 1999.