|Dates: ||1835 - ?|
Born to Scottish parents in the booming Yorkshire city of Bradford, Butterfield took full advantage of his student days. While still in his teens, he was an older pupil who was granted the privilege of perusing the headmaster’s library. One of the volumes that intrigued him most was the Mechanics’ Magazine, reminiscing in 1861 that “it was through this medium I first became possessed of the knowledge that such a thing as photography existed.” Butterfield started out with Mungo Ponton’s cheap photographic process using bichromate of potash paper, which allowed him to make simple contact negatives of leaves and other natural objects. He built his first camera out of a cigar box fitted with a spectacle glass, but found Ponton’s paper insufficiently sensitive for the camera. He struggled with various paper processes until discovering the ease of the collodion process in achieving successful negatives. Butterfield was so prosperous as a wool merchant that he was able to retire in his thirties, and this gave him leisure time to pursue his photography. Although the rapidity of glass negatives was appealing, he never lost track of his early roots in paper. As Butterfield observed in the British Journal of Photography: “Wax paper is very good for reproducing views of old ruins, rustic cottages, &c., where required of extra large size; but I certainly cannot recommend it generally, in consequence of the length of exposure required, and its inability to give any amount of sharpness to views embracing distant objects.”
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.
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