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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Traill Taylor

Names:
Other: J. Traill Taylor 
Dates:  1827 - 1895
Born:  Great Britain, Scotland, Orkney Islands
Died:  USA, Florida
Active:  Great Britain
 
  

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Approved biography for John Traill Taylor
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
Taylor, born in the Orkney Islands, moved to Edinburgh at eighteen. His own photographs are less important than the tremendous influence he had on the new art. Originally destined for the ministry, he instead followed in the footsteps of his watchmaker father. Optics was a part of that business, and seeing a daguerreotype for the first time “exerted so great an influence” on Taylor that photography was to be his main interest in life. Forty years later, during one of his frequent and popular talks, published in the British Journal of Photography in 1885, Taylor recalled this period, of which, he said, “I now submit a few of the negatives themselves, some of which are by Mr. Talbot, the others being by various experimentalists who at once rushed into the field, including myself.” Taylor first became active in the emerging photographic journals by circulating the Photographer, a manuscript magazine frequently quoted in the published journals (fortunately, for the unique originals were lost in an 1859 burglary). He then became a regular contributor to the British Journal of Photography, and his 1861 article on the waxed-paper process displayed a mastery of that method. That same year Taylor was responsible for the foundation of the Edinburgh Photographic Society. He re-called, in the Photogram in March 1895, that “it was in the little workroom at the back of my shop that four or five friends interested in the progress of photography used to meet and have what we called ‘a photographic chat.’ From these meetings arose the Edinburgh Photographic Society, which we started with seven members. We took a small room in the coffee-house, and drew the first subscription of five shillings from James Valentine, the founder of the present firm of view publishers.” In 1864 Taylor moved to London to accept the editorship of the British Journal of Photography, an influential position that he held until 1879. Taylor then moved to the United States, briefly dabbling in commerce before starting the Photographic Times in New York. In 1886 he returned to London, again taking up the editorship of the British Journal of Photography and also of its companion, the Annual. Taylor was one of the few consistent supporters of Talbot, and some accounts have him actively experimenting with the inventor, most likely a confusion resulting from his correspondence with Talbot. Taylor was an honorary or full member of numerous photographic organizations and the cofounder of the Photographic Convention. The Journal explained in his obituary, “the popularity Mr. Taylor enjoyed among the many thousands of photographers with whom he came into contact during the course of his long career is not difficult to understand. He was ever genial, communicative, and kind-hearted, ready to help with advice, counsel, or information, the beau-idéal, in fact of natural bonhomie and good humour.” He died of dysentery while visiting the orange grove that he owned in Florida. 
  
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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