Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date



The thesis examines the development of a coherent photographic aesthetic in Great Britain during the 19th century. It proceeds from the idea that the history of photography during this period should be viewed as a series of formal approaches to the problem of how best to utilise the medium; both for the production of art and also for the dissemination of specific information. These two uses of the medium are not seen as being mutually exclusive of one another. The thesis advances the idea that both these genres of photography offer evidence of formal attitudes towards the medium itself, which constitute a major part of any statement made with the process. Photographic styles are thus not distinguished by choice of subject matter, but rather by the photographer's manipulation of the relationship between the viewer and the image itself.

The thesis commences with a consideration of the approach formulated by William Henry Fox Talbot in which the camera is used to accurately record that which is presented to it. The photograph thus acts as a surrogate reality in which the major emphasis is placed upon the intrin­sic qualities of the subject portrayed.

The thesis then traces variant approaches adopted by other photographers, building upon this idea. It does so through a study of the written and visual work of the major British photographers of the century. From Talbot, David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson, Thomas Keith, Julia Margaret Cameron, 0. G, Rejlander, H. P. Robinson, Samuel Bourne, James Mudd, A. and J, Bool, Henry Dixon, John Thomson and P, H. Emerson,

The thesis attempts to trace stylistic similarities and differences in the work of these photographers. The most obvious difference I approach is seen between the composite prints of H. P. Robinson and the social commentaries of John Thomson. The radical differences in the work of these two photographers is finally seen as being tentatively reconciled in the work of P. H. Emerson. Emerson’s attitude towards photography is seen as a synthesis of many of the approaches formulated before him. His style is seen as asserting the autonomous existence of the picture, as well as embracing similar social concerns to Thomson.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Beaumont Newhall

Second Committee Member

Van Deren Coke

Third Committee Member

Thomas R. Barrow