|Dates: ||1802 - 1880|
|Active: ||Great Britain|
Trained as a lawyer and grounded in ancient religious beliefs, Ponton helped found the National Bank of Scotland and eventually became its secretary. The pressures of business proved to be too much for his frail health, and he was forced to retire early. This freedom from commercial responsibilities was fortunate, for Ponton was at heart an amateur scientist. A fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 1834, he published scientific papers on optics, spectroscopy, polarization, and improvements to the electric telegraph. It was through a single communication in 1839 that Ponton was to revolutionize photography. He suggested the use of potassium bichromate to make a simple and cheap photographic paper. While as he conceived it the method created only a muddy greenish image, still it could be made permanent with a mere wash of water. It was immediately adopted by botanists. Three years later, John Herschel would use bichromate in conjunction with iron salts to invent the blueprint. Talbot and others were to use the method as the fundamental basis of the photomechanical processes that would eventually allow ink to supplant silver in photographic book illustration, an idea Talbot freely credited to Ponton. Ponton conceived of using photography to automatically record fluctuations of thermometers and other instruments, an idea that won him a silver medal from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts in 1845. He was a staunch advocate of the wave theory of light. Moving from Edinburgh to Clifton in 1854, Ponton became more and more engaged in religion and philosophy. His crowning publication was his 1871 book The Beginning: Its When, and Its How, skillfully illustrated with his drawings, which blends religion and science, with a particular emphasis on the influence of solar light.
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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