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A native of Stuttgart, Rolf Mayer became interested in art photography from 1975. His first collection included masterpieces from the nineteenth Century and the modern classical era. In 1987, his collection was presented at the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie before being sold to the same museum the following year. His second collection soon focused on the discoveries of modern photography in the nineteenth Century from the so-called archaic period (1840-1880). Among pioneers of the photo that are part of it include Atget, Cameron, Charnay, De Clercq, Du Camp, Fenton, Fox Talbot, Le Gray, Muybridge, Nadar…

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MAYER COLLECTION / THE FUTURE OF THE PAST

MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE 19TH CENTURY

« We lived in an epoch of impatient curiosity that has made a mess of everything, people and things. » It was with these words that the great French photographer Nadar (pseudonym of Félix Tournachon: 1820–1910) described in his autobiography « Quand j’étais photographe » the age he lived in, where photography was penetrating and changing every sphere of art and life. In the 1830s in France, Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) and Louis-Jacques Mandé-Daguerre (1787–1851) were the great discoverers of and experimenters in a photomechanical process for copying reality, while at the same time in England the great pioneer in that eld was William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877). Unlike Daguerre, who sold the patent to the French government for a monthly life-long pension, Fox Talbot programmatically registered his patent in England under the name ‘calotype’, from the Greek ‘kalos’ (beautiful).

The procedure developed by Fox Talbot could be used to capture images on specially prepared paper. The special cimelia of the Mayer collection include his « The Open Door », the sixth plate illustrating the epochal work he published between 1844 and 1846, « The Pencil of Nature ». In that work Fox Talbot describes his initial experiments with the Camera Lucida on the shores of Lake Como in 1833. Those first fruitless attempts were followed by more successful ones with the Camera Obscura, a procedure whereby objects are projected onto tracing paper using a lens mounted in a wooden box. Fox Talbot then developed light-sensitive salted paper meant to capture the projected images. The procedure developed at about the same time by Daguerre, on the other hand, delivered images on a sensitised metal plate. The resulting works are impressive in that they have more contrast and are sharper than the ones obtained by Fox Talbot, but since Talbot’s procedure produced paper prints it is basically the more forward-looking one.

 

Bibliographical reference: Exhibition catalog «The Future of the Past» (Modern photography of the 19th Century) - «The artificial eye» or Re-measuring the visible world, by Markus Müller / © Graphikmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster, 2009 - Courtesy Mayer Collection.