Sir John Herschel is widely remembered as an accomplished scientist. The drawing instrument called the camera lucida is hardly remembered at all.
Yet Herschel produced a remarkable body of work utilizing the camera lucida that demonstrates an important early confluence of the traditions of drawing and the newly invented art of photography. John exhibited exceptional skills as a draftsman while still a child. As he matured, Sir John Herschel emerged as a preeminent social and cultural leader of 19Ih century Britain, commanding greater influence than any other scientist of his generation. Herschel became a second Sir Isaac Newton (and they are buried next to each other in Westminster Abbey).
The camera lucida, introduced in 1807, was the last major optical aid made available to artists before the invention of photography. Diminutive in size and easily portable, this "perspective machine" formed no real image itself, but instead enabled the eye to view the scene and the sheet of drawing paper simultaneously, as if superimposed on each other. The camera lucida was of great interest to scientific-travellers and to artists. In the hands of a skilled draftsman, it facilitated the production of drawings that were precise in line and mathematically correct in perspective. However, it demanded much of the draftsman and few were able to master it. In fact, it was utter failure with the camera lucida that motivated HerschePs friend, William Henry Fox Talbot, to invent photography.
Herschel was an important promoter of the concept of photography and did much of the fundamental research on which it was established. He invented the hypo fixer still used by photographers today. In spite of this, Herschel continued to prefer the non-photographic camera lucida over photography as his primary means of visual recording. He was more philosophically inclined to the analytical process of drawing than to the "taking" of photographs. Yet his vision was photographic.
More than 300 of Herschel's drawings, spanning from 1809 to 1865, are preserved in the Graham Nash Collection. He sketched throughout the British Isles, [...]
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