|Dates: ||1813 - 1898|
Photographic assistant to Henry Fox Talbot and he ran the Reading Establishment at 8 Russell Terrace where he printed the plates for the publications of Talbot.
No one was more important to Talbot’s introduction of photography on paper than Nicolaas Henneman. Born in Holland and polished in Paris, Henneman was a clever and dedicated worker. As valet to Talbot at Lacock Abbey, he assisted in preparations, experiments, and printing, and he took many photographs himself, some of which are undoubtedly credited to Talbot. More importantly, Henneman’s loyalty and enthusiasm buttressed Talbot’s spirits and resolve during the early days, when it appeared that the triumph of the daguerreotype might, so to speak, reverse the British victory at Waterloo. Clearly Henneman played a critical role, but, ironically, he was himself quite an underwhelming photographer. He accompanied Talbot on photographic expeditions around Britain, and in 1843 the pair ventured into France, securing important photographs later published in The Pencil of Nature. Later that year, in an act of great confidence and courage, especially for one of his social standing, Henneman left Talbot’s employ to set up the world’s first dedicated photographic printing works, in the town of Reading, proudly declaring himself a “Calotypist.” (The operation was never called The Reading Establishment, nor was it owned and operated by Talbot — both common misconceptions.) Henneman printed the plates for The Pencil of Nature at Reading, including the one of Westminster Abbey that he took himself. Later in 1844 he accompanied Talbot north to assist in the photography for Sun Pictures in Scotland. Print permanence remained a crippling problem, and Henneman was unable to sustain his operation in Reading. By 1847 he was forced to approach the larger market of London, this time in a business largely owned by Talbot but called Nicolaas Henneman’s Sun Picture Rooms. In 1848 he was joined by the young chemist Thomas Augustine Malone, and by the next year Henneman & Malone were billing themselves as “Photographers to the Queen.” The firm made every attempt to be innovative, advertising photography by electric light (crucial in the smog-ridden capital) and exhibiting a wide range of photographs in the Great Exhibition of 1851, including works not only on paper but also on silk and other materials. Originally Henneman was commissioned to make the prints for the exhibition’s Reports by the Juries, but he was brutally pushed aside. At the point when amateurs began to seriously embrace the calotype, the process was in fact on the wane commercially. Henneman planned to greatly expand his printing works at Kensal Green, London, but Talbot warned him that mass photographic printing in silver would have no future once he had perfected his photographic engraving process (this took some decades, but Talbot was eventually proven correct). While Henneman taught many successful photographers at Lacock, Reading, and London, he never achieved true artistry himself, and in the increasingly competitive photographic world of the 1850s he was more and more out of step with the times. By 1859 financial difficulties had overwhelmed him and he shut down his business. In the 1860s Henneman worked as an operator for other photographers in Scarborough and Birmingham. He considered becoming a photographer in Portugal but instead returned to London in 1868, operating a rooming house. Throughout all this, he and Talbot remained loyal to each other, never forgetting the unusually close photographic bond they had established in the 1840s. Henneman’s service to photography on paper was of crucial importance to Talbot and hence to the early development of the new art.
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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