Photo drama as Sotheby’s withdraws ‘oldest’ pic (update)
May 8, 2008
Doubts over the origin of an image that was poised to rewrite the history books has forced Sotheby?s to withdraw it from auction to allow further investigation.
As we reported last month, a photogenic drawing of a leaf that is currently attributed to British photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839 may instead have been produced more than 30 years earlier by Thomas Wedgwood, according to photo historian Dr Larry J Schaaf.
However, in a dramatic move, Sotheby?s New York has ?postponed? its sale just days ahead of the 7 April auction after being contacted by other experts in the field.
In a statement Denise Bethel, director of Sotheby?s Photographs department, said: ?Following the publication of the catalogue? scholars across the field of photography have entered into a spirited and lively dialogue about the possible origins of the Leaf.
?Dr Larry Schaaf?s essay, which comprised our copy for the lot, has inspired and attracted much discourse.?
Bethel added: ?This conversation has revealed new areas of research, which will be explored in the coming months.?
Fox Talbot and Frenchman Louis Daguerre are currently regarded as the founding fathers of photography, having revealed their respective photo inventions to the world in 1839.
Schaaf had outlined the possibility that the image may have been produced in ?1805 or earlier? by Wedgwood, a member of the famous china family.
Picture credit: Sotheby’s New York
NEWS UPDATE 8 May 2008
Leaf image sows seed of doubt
Schaaf has since played down any suggestion that his speculation could re-write the history books, telling Amateur Photographer (AP) that any ?reasonably complete history? has always included Wedgwood.
He told AP, ?My only claims were that this was a very interesting and attractive early photograph. From there, I outlined several possibilities for its creation, one of which was a link to Wedgwood.?
Schaaf added: ?The significance of this does not lie in any possibility of changing our understanding of the history of the medium. It only affects our historiography.?
The ?Leaf? is one of six ?anonymous? photogenic drawings originally housed in an album belonging to Englishman Henry Bright.
Writing in the Sotheby?s sale catalogue, Schaaf asserted: ?Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas Wedgwood began his experiments in trying to secure solar pictures. He gave up on cameras and instead concentrated on photograms, placing leaves and other objects on silver nitrate-coated paper and white leather to form negative images, much the same as Talbot was to do several decades later.?
Schaaf?s speculation is partly based on the letter ?W? that, on close inspection, can be seen inscribed in the bottom-right corner of the image and on four others from the Bright album. The picture has been in the hands of a private photography dealer representing the Quillan Company since 1989.