Henry Peach Robinson: A Photography Pioneer


He gave the world a combined art of printing, which was an exclusive photo montage technology: a few different plans were recorded on a tape and then assembled into a single image by superimposing the two or more negatives. Though not everyone accepted this method, because many felt cheated and did not recognize the photos created by the master, it did not break the spirit of a talented young man. He was developing and improving his photography skills with hard work. Many years later, a scholarship from honorable Photographic Society of Great Britain was awarded, to pay homage to Henry Peach Robinson’s achievements in the realm of photography.


Robinson was raised in a large family in a British town of Ludlow (Shropshire). At the age 13, he started to study painting and drawing but had never reached the professional activity in it. Henry, however, continued to draw pictures as a hobby, and in 1852 his work became a part of the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. This moment turned out to be a turning point for him: having started taking photographs at that time, he managed the opening of his own photography studio in Leamington 5 years later.

Like many photographers of the time, Robinson was suffering from poor health because of exposure to toxic chemicals used when working with films. But this did not prevent him from being active on opening new studios and writing very important and useful theoretical works on the composition effects and the use of light and shade.

Robinson’s most controversial Fading Away (1858)

The unique style and exceptional creative

Works of Henry Peach Robinson can not be called just beautiful or simply mediocre. He was tirelessly surprising the observers by his innovative approach. Many disagreed with his vision of art and even condemned the young photographer. Accustomed to the classical notion of images as a reflection of reality, colleagues took their time to learn or repeat the procedure of combination printing. The contradictory nature of success has done his job, however. In the XXI century, Henry was admitted to a talented photographer and a classic representative of the British photography.

Henry Peach Robinson never agreed with the idea that the picture was just a fixation of everyday images, appearing before his eyes. Robinson was looking for new ways without any fear of coming out of the conventional framework. Inspired by medieval painters he was deliberately working with a polysyllabic storyline and lots of details. As an artist, he could embody his fantasies on the paper with one stroke of the brush, but as a photographer in the XIX century theoretically he had no opportunity to change the composition after firing the camera shutter. But in practice, Henry re-created the ABCs of digital editing (which, like art, was fully recognized only 140 years later) with the help of available tools and irrepressible enthusiasm.

No wonder, he is called a father of Pictorialism (international style and aesthetic movement in the photographic art, which enhances detail). He imposed different images (or rather their negatives) in collage in the hard work on each to obtain a completely new picture. An example may be the photograph, inspired by the paintings of John Everett Milles “The Lady of Shalott.”

The photographer was too prone to detail. He paid great attention to the image composition and preliminary study of every detail. Often, he created sketches of future works on the paper, pictured location of the objects and people, etc. Then he sought the right position of the light and the models.

Theoretical heritage

As an active artist, Henry Peach Robinson conducted lectures, presented papers and actively promoted his views in like-minded circles.

The photographer left behind a large number of theoretical works for the future generations of the same brave and talented artists like him. Handbook for beginners and professionals: Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints On Composition And Chiaroscuro For Photographers is considered to be a canonical piece of literature on Pictorialism worldwide. It tells about the aesthetics of photography and practical methods of transferring it to the picture. In addition to this work, Robinson wrote several more books about the electoral effect in photos, light painting, an art of photography, on landscape photography, etc.


Source by Irene Rufferty

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