Not much is known about the early life of Thomas Sutton beyond that he was born on September 22, 1819 in Kensington, London. He studied architecture before attending Caius College in Cambridge, and graduated in 1846 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Photography first entered the young man's life in 1841 when he posed for a daguerreotype portrait in Antoine Claudet's famous studio. Claudet is believed to have encouraged Mr. Sutton to contemplate photography as a vocation. A short time later, he became acquainted with a daguerreotypist in Jersey, and decided to experiment with photography, but his first efforts were hardly encouraging.
While continuing his studies at Cambridge, Mr. Sutton opened his first photographic studio in Jersey in 1847, through the patronage of Prince Albert. Three years' later, he settled in the Jersey enclave of St. Brelade's Bay with his wife, and began learning calotype photography. During the 1850s, while traveling through Switzerland and Italy with his wife and young son, Mr. Sutton met photographers Frederic Flacheron and Robert MacPherson, who would further educate him on the calotype process. He learned the albumen-on-glass technique from Mr. MacPherson and the wet-paper technique from Mr. Flacheron. After comparing both, he found the paper negative process more to his liking.
Soon after returning to England, Mr. Sutton received a commission to make 12 prints from the best negatives from his Italian voyage. This inspired him to attempt to recreate the developing-out printing process that resembled the method used French photographer Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard. After falling short, he sent his negatives to Mr. Blanquart-Evrard for printing, which were later published as 'Souvenirs of Jersey.' Afterwards, Mr. Sutton attempted to pay Mr. Blanquart-Evrard to reveal his technique, but he refused.
In 1854, Mr. Sutton wrote a letter that expressed his support of albumen as opposed to collodion negatives, which was published in the Journal of the Photographic Society. The following year, he published The Calotype Process: A Hand Book to Photography on Paper and A New Method of Printing Positive Photographs, By Which Permanent and Artistic Results May be Uniformly Obtained, which so impressed Prince Albert that he encouraged Mr. Sutton to open his own photographic company. Interestingly, he established the Jersey-based facility with his one-time rival and now business partner Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard. This facility specialized in producing prints utilizing the calotype process. At this time, he and Mr. Blanquart-Evrard also founded the journal 'Photographic Notes,' which Mr. Sutton edited for more than a decade.
During the late 1850s, Mr. Sutton received a patent for the single lens reflex plate camera and wrote several books on photography, including the Dictionary of Photography, first published in 1858. The following year, Sutton invented the first wide-angle lens' panoramic camera. The spherical lens was filled with water that would project an image onto a long, curved plate. Although soon rendered obsolete by John Johnson and John Harrison's pantoscopic camera, Sutton's invention marked an important turning point in early landscape photography. He later invented a symmetrical triple lens he hoped would correct the distortion problems that plagued most lenses at the time. Dallmeyer would subsequently make modifications that would eliminate distortion, but could not have been achieved without Mr. Sutton’s imaginative experimentation. In later years, he focused on color photography and experimented with dry plate development. Thomas Sutton died at his home in Pwllheli, North Wales on March 19, 1875. He left his imprint upon every aspect of nineteenth-century photography.
1875 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. XXII (London: Henry Greenwood), pp. 210-212.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1364-1366
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