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By the mid-1850s, when collodion on glass negatives dominated British commercial photography, some amateurs remained loyal to Talbot’s calotype process on paper. None was more accomplished than the Bristol photographer Hugh Owen (English, 1808-1897). His day job as cashier for Brunel’s Great Western Railway stood in marked contrast to his artistic endeavors. He began with the daguerreotype, but in 1845 he turned to Talbot, borrowing some calotypes to illustrate a lecture. Owen was so taken with the examples Talbot sent him, that within two years’ time he mastered the paper negative process. In 1854 he defended the calotype, declaring that “for the delineation of nature” he felt compelled to “assert the superiority of paper, both for force and effect, as well as convenience.” 

Reviewing the 1847 London Calotype Society exhibition, the Athenæum singled out Owen “well known for his talent in his art… whose various views… justified the reputation which he has earned.” On the strength of Owen’s calotypes in the 1851 Great Exhibition, the Commissioners hired him to record displays in the Crystal Palace. These along with prints by Claude-Marie Ferrier were used to illustrate the lavishly produced 1852 limited edition publication, Reports by the Juries. The following year, Owen became a member of the founding council of the Photographic Society and contributed regularly to their exhibitions. For reasons presently unknown he suddenly gave up photography in 1856. When Owen died he was all but forgotten by the photographic community.

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