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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Benjamin Brecknell Turner

Dates:  1815, 12 May - 1894, 29 April
Born:  Great Britain, London
Active:  Great Britain
 
  
A painter-turned-photographer who photographed in the tradition of the English watercolour artists, much of his work being reminiscent of Constable‘s paintings. He had worked with Talbot in the 1840s and was an excellent practitioner of the large format waxed paper negative.
 
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Benjamin Brecknell Turner
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Benjamin Brecknell Turner, the eldest son and second in a family of eight children, was born on 12 May 1815 in the family house at 31-32 The Haymarket, London.
 
Numbers 31-32 served as the business premises of Brecknell & Turner, tallow-chandlers. The company was formed by Turner's father, Samuel, who went into partnership with his uncle-by-marriage, Benjamin Brecknell. The family lived above the company's factory and shop, where candles and saddle-soap were made and sold. At sixteen Benjamin was contracted as an apprentice to his father, he joined the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers in 1837 and became a Freeman of the City of London the following year. By 1836 the family had moved to Balham in South London.
 
When Samuel Turner died in 1841 he left the business to his two elder sons, B.B. and Robert Samuel Turner although the latter took no active part in the business. The Balham house was sold after Samuel Turner's death and his widow, and some of her children, including Turner, returned to live in the Haymarket.
 
On 17 August 1847, Turner married Agnes Chamberlain in the church at Bredicot, Worcester. Chamberlain, a member of the Worcester China family joined the household of her mother-in-law over the shop in the Haymarket, where Benjamin and Agnes' eight children were born.
 
According to the family history, 'BBT took up photography in 1849 with a license from Fox Talbot'. Turner, his wife and their growing family spent long summer holidays at Bredicot.
 
Turner began to photograph with new ambition in 1852, and commenced his long and distinguished career as an exhibitor later in December of the same year. Six of his photographs were shown in the world's first purely photographic exhibition. 'Recent Specimens of Photography' which appeared at the Society of Arts in London, and subsequently toured to centres in England and Scotland.
 
Turner was a founding-member of the Photographic Society of London which was formed in 1853, and later served as a Vice President. In 1858 he gave the society's embryonic collection four of the photographs he had shown in the Society of Arts exhibition of 1852, as well as the copy of Fox Talbot's 'The Pencil of Nature'. He also showed his work in the society's annual exhibitions, which began in 1854, as well as in exhibitions in Norwich, Manchester ('The Art Treasures of England' exhibition of 1857), Edinburgh and Glasgow.
 
Turner was highly productive and visible in the 1850s. His photographic campaigns took him to many parts of England and to Holland in 1857. He also joined the temporary army of 'Volunteers', which was supposed to repulse the French during the diplomatic crisis of 1859-60. He exhibited in the International Exhibitions held in Paris in 1855 (when he received a bronze medal) and in South Kensington in 1862.
 
Turner also made studio portraits on glass negatives. His 'glass-house' studio was above his Haymarket premises. He made many portraits here in the 1850s although he seems never to have exhibited them. His subjects were members of his business and household. Turner served as treasurer and honorary secretary to the Photographic Exchange Club and he masterminded a handsome volume of photographs titled 'The Photographic Album for the Year' 1857.
 
Turner seems to have retreated for a few years from the public exhibition of his photographs. He and his family left central London in 1864 for a suburban house in Tulse Hill. His wife's diary recorded holidays in Cromer, Charmouth, Brittany, Barmouth and Newquay. He showed two prints at the Photographic Society's annual exhibition in 1875. After which he seems to have settled into retirement. Agnes Turner died in 1887 and Turner himself in 1894. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Approved biography for Benjamin Brecknell Turner
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
"I beg to say, that I do not employ the waxed-paper process, but the original process of Mr. Fox Talbot." Turnerís emphatic statement, published in the British Journal of Photography in 1859, was occasioned by some flattering remarks in the Photographic Journal in the same year, typical praise for one who had emerged as one of the finest photographers of his generation. Turnerís family were tallow chandlers (their products are still available today). His day job throughout his life was with this firm, but it was a financially successful venture and gave him ample opportunity to pursue his love of photography. And pursue it he did. Turnerís own recollection is that he started in photography about 1849, taking up and never putting aside the calotype. He later claimed to have contributed to Talbotís The Pencil of Nature and by then had become a proud owner of one of the scarce originals. Certainly none of the plates in the album are credited to him, but the publication collapsed when fewer than half of Talbotís projected fifty plates had been published, so Turnerís authorship is not totally implausible. In fact, in 1876, Turner donated a lens, labeled as the one used to take the plates in Pencil. Turnerís earliest calotypes were of typical size, but in 1852 he undertook an ambitious 10 x 15 inch image, and most of his subsequent work was done in that format. Some of his earliest mature photographs date from 1852 and are poignant views of the Crystal Palace being dismantled for its move from Hyde Park. Starting with the pivotal 1852 exhibition at the Society of Arts in London, Turner was a prolific and consistent exhibitor. He had shown at least twenty-five calotypes in the London exhibitions by 1855, always entrancing the public and critics alike with his boldly and well-composed views of architecture and nature. Turner briefly dabbled in collodion in 1856, but by the time of the 1857 Manchester ďArt TreasuresĒ exhibition he had returned to the calotype. Between then and 1862 he was more prolific than ever, filling both English and Scottish exhibitions with his work. Turner found the plain paper of the calotype to be quite versatile and did not hesitate to reinforce details in pencil or to opaque out uneven skies. However, he did so with a grace that in no way undermined the truthfulness to nature for which he was known. In 1858 William Crookes declared, ďTurnerís Ďcalotypeí old oaks, &c., equal anything of the same size that we meet with, whether glass or paper.Ē In the 1875 exhibition by the Photographic Society of Great Britain, Turnerís negatives were given an unusual treatment. Two of them that he had exhibited in the 1854 exhibition of the Photographic Society in London, including Scotch Firs, Hawkhurst, were enlarged to 20 x 24 inches and printed in carbon. Their beauty remained. 
  
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

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Benjamin Brecknell Turner
Benjamin and Agnes Brecknell Turner 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
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The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
 
  
 
  
 
  
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