Little is known about the life of Mitchell, except that he was an adjutant in the 1st Native Veteran Battalion of the Indian Army. When he showed his photographs at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal in 1857, they were praised in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science as “splendid subjects in architecture and old Hindu buildings and temples taken by the wax paper process.” In 1858 he displayed some of his negatives at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Madras. The Madras Journal noted that his “large negatives on paper, views lately taken . . . were exceedingly clearly brought out and delicate in the half tints. It was thought that they would yield fine impressions.” Although Mitchell experimented with photomicrography and even gave a paper on the subject, it is clear that his passion was photographing the ancient architecture of India. His approach was so sensible and his advice so clear that in England the Photographic News published a three-part series on his method. Like many others, Mitchell had initially based his work on the waxed-paper process of Gustave Le Gray, but he found, as reported by the News, that his photography was “equally suited to unwaxed papers. As the manipulation of unwaxed paper is much the easiest, and the results so much alike that the operator himself cannot, after a time, say which was taken on waxed, which on plain paper.” Although he worked with special imported Canson negative paper, Mitchell found that the sheets varied in density, having thin spots that would let the chemicals soak through to the wrong side. He triaged his new batches of paper, holding each up to the light. The most uniform ones were destined for his favored calotype negatives; those with minor imperfections could be salvaged by waxing; and the least uniform were used to make prints. His practical approach paid off, for in 1858 the Madras Photographic Society judged that Mitchell’s more than two dozen 15 x 11 inch views of the Seven Pagodas were, according to the account in the Madras Journal, “fully the equal to any Photographs which have been produced in India.”
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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