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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Hugh Welch Diamond

Dates:  1809 (1808, 23 October - Grove Art Online) - 1886, 21 June
Born:  Great Britain, Kent
Active:  Great Britain
 
  
English photographer.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Hugh Welch Diamond
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
In 1853 Diamond wistfully observed, “There has been lately such a desire for something new, that we all have more or less run away from a steady wish to improve if possible the original details of Mr. Fox Talbot.” Later in the century, Diamond was remembered as one of the most influential figures in the formative days of photography. Like his father he became a surgeon, making his reputation battling an outbreak of cholera in 1832, but then turned to the study of mental disorders. A keen antiquarian and a collector not only of ceramics but also of prints and printed materials, Diamond sold collections of prints to the British Museum in 1838 and 1851. He made his first photogenic drawing in April 1839 and by 1847 had joined the Calotype Society, an informal gathering of a dozen friends with like interests. He was a master of Talbot’s process, eloquent in his landscapes and particularly earnest about making archaeological studies. Diamond published his techniques and insights freely, thereby becoming a critical tutor to many in the first wave of photographers. By the time of the seminal photographic exhibition at the Society of Arts in London in 1852, he had begun to meld his professional and amateur interests, taking insightful portraits of the insane; this would emerge as a major preoccupation. Because these portraits required relatively short exposure times, often under difficult conditions, Diamond became a pioneer in the use of the wet-collodion negative. He was elected the first secretary of the Photographic Society in London in 1853 and the next year was named honorary photographer to the Society of Antiquaries. It was during this period that Diamond’s work in calotypy and wet collodion happily coexisted, with each process applied where it would be most effective. In the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in Dundee, and in the 1854, 1855, and 1856 exhibitions of the Photographic Society in London, Diamond displayed calotype landscapes, archaeological subjects, and architectural studies. In later exhibitions, collodion portraits of the insane and of amateur photographers (if such a distinction can be made!) predominated. Diamond was widely admired by his photographic contemporaries and was paid tribute to in public testimonials. In 1867 the Photographic Society (later the Royal Photographic Society) fittingly presented its first medal to Diamond, not only for his “eminent services to the art generally” but also out of the council’s “own regard and esteem personally.” Times changed rapidly after that, and two decades later, when Diamond’s effects were auctioned after his death, the correspondent for the Photographic News was struck both by the rapid evolution of the art and the lackluster response to the artifacts of its history. Notably, one of Diamond’s “ancient” lenses, signed by Daguerre himself, realized a mere eleven shillings from the unsentimental buyers. 
  
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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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.
 
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Further research

 
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Thumbnail
Henry Peach Robinson
Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond 
1869
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Exhibitions on this website

ThumbnailDr. Hugh Welch Diamond: Patients at Surrey Asylum (ca. 1855) 
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Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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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. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.48 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Hugh Welch Diamond.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.71 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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