7th May 2015, 12:24pm
Leading photo historian breaks silence with Lincoln lecture
Rethinking Early Photography A professor who made international headlines with his analysis of one of the oldest photographs in the world will break years of silence with a free public lecture at the University of Lincoln, UK.

In 2008, a simple photograph of a leaf was due to be sold by Sotheby’s, the famous New York auctioneers – following speculations about its age, The Guardian newspaper suggested that the picture could be worth millions.

The work, titled ‘Leaf’, is a photogenic drawing, derived from a cameraless process in which an object is placed on silver nitrate-coated paper to form a negative image. Originally attributed to William Henry Fox Talbot, considered to be one of the fathers of photography, ‘Leaf’ was thought to have been made in 1839 at what is widely accepted as the dawn of photography.

However, research by leading photo historian Professor Larry J. Schaaf highlighted that while the photograph was certainly not by Talbot, it could be attributed to other early experimenters — possibly even Thomas Wedgwood, of the famous Wedgwood china family, who worked in the medium decades earlier.

If this theory was proven to be true, the photo could have been made as early as the 1790s, making it by far the oldest photograph still in existence and putting back photography’s conventional birthdate by many decades.

A media storm forced Sotheby’s to remove this controversial photograph from sale. Professor Schaaf, Director of the William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, then continued his personal research into the picture.

Professor Schaaf has not spoken publicly about his findings since 2008, but on Monday 15th June 2015 he will deliver a free public lecture at the University of Lincoln, entitled The Damned Leaf: Musings on History, Hysteria and Historiography. The lecture will discuss not only the ‘Leaf’ itself, but also its implications for the history of photography.

The talk will launch the international Rethinking Early Photography conference at the University of Lincoln, hosted by Dr Owen Clayton, Dr Hannah Field, Dr Jim Cheshire and Adam O’Meara from Lincoln’s College of Arts.

Dr Clayton, Lecturer in the University’s School of English & Journalism, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Professor Schaaf to Lincoln. Photographers, historians, and the public are intrigued by the origins of photography, and his investigations are key to our understanding of this important image. Professor Schaaf has not discussed his findings since 2008, so we are honoured that he has chosen our conference in Lincoln as the platform for updating the world about his intriguing research.”

The conference takes place on 16th and 17th June 2015, with more than 50 speakers exploring topics such as early photographic authorship, traditional technological narratives and the ideologies of photographic realism.

It will welcome historians, curators and photographic practitioners from around the world for two days of presentations, workshops and roundtable discussion at the University of Lincoln. Alongside Professor Schaaf, other renowned keynote speakers include Professor Kate Flint from the University of Southern California, Professor Lindsay Smith from the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Visual, and Dr Kelley Wilder from De Montfort University’s Photographic History Research Centre.

The conference will also see the launch of Dr Clayton’s new book, Literature and photography in transition, 1850-1915 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), which explores how British and American writers used early photography and film as illustrations and metaphors.

Professor Schaaf’s public lecture is free to attend and takes place at 4pm on Monday 15th June in the University’s Co-op Lecture Theatre. To register your attendance, please email rethinkingphotography@gmail.com with your name, contact number and how many places you would like to reserve.
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