|Dates: ||1808 - 1897|
|Born: ||England, Bristol|
|Died: ||England, Bristol|
|Active: ||Great Britain / Portugal|
By day a Bristol-based cashier for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway, Owen first became an amateur daguerreotypist in the early 1840s. In March 1845, about to give a lecture on photography to the Bristol Mechanics Institute & Philosophical Society, he wrote to Talbot. Owen had not yet tried the calotype and asked Talbot for some examples to illustrate his lecture. These must have won him over, for within two years Owen had became a master of the paper negative. In 1847, after seeing an exhibition by the members of the Calotype Society in London, the Athenaeum drew particular attention to Owen, the “gentleman of Bristol well known for his talent in his art . . . whose various views . . . justified the reputation which [he] has earned.” Owen entered a series of calotypes in the 1851 Great Exhibition, so impressing the commissioners that they engaged him to make photographs of some of the displays. In the 1852 Society of Arts exhibition, views from the Crystal Palace were included in Owens’s group of more than forty calotypes. After this exhibition, he joined the founding council of the Photographic Society. In 1853 Joseph Cundall published two volumes of Owens’s Photographic Pictures. The Athenaeum felt they showed the “short--comings of the Sun’s work,” but admired “the delicate touch of the ivy” in his view of the gate of Farleigh Castle. By 1854 Owen felt compelled to defend his favorite negative process in the Journal of the Photographic Society: “Although I dislike controversy on matters of taste, I must be permitted to remonstrate against the tone assumed by some of the Photographists of the New School with regard to the paper process. . . . For the delineation of nature, however, I . . . assert the superiority of paper, both for force and effect, as well as convenience.” His views from Portugal were in the 1855 exhibition, where he continued to be one of the most prolific exhibitors of the period. In 1856 Owen finally succumbed to the dominance of collodion on glass. His exhibitions stopped, and he seems to have had little to do with photography after that. By the time of his death he was forgotten by the photographic fraternity to which he had contributed so bountifully.
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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