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  Valentine Blanchard

Innovative nineteenth-century photographer and inventor Valentine Blanchard was born in the small town of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1831. Not much is known about his childhood except that he apparently came from a working class family. He found work as a printer’s apprentice, but his paltry income prevented him from purchasing the chemicals he needed explore photographic processing. He complained, "The fearful price of the chemicals cleaned out the shallow pocket of the apprentice."

Eventually, Mr. Blanchard had the sufficient means to become a portrait photographer, and his style - particularly his interesting use of shadows - is reminiscent of that of Adam-Salomon, one of Paris's premier photographers and sculptors. Although Mr. Blanchard's artistry continued to evolve, comparisons to the French artist’s work that commenced with his first London exhibit continued throughout his career. Mr. Blanchard's studio, however, was uniquely his own. Instead of letting in as much light as possible, it was dark. He explained, "I consider that the most perfect lighting a photographer can have is when the sun is obscured by a white cloud," which is the effect he sought to recreate in his studio. His careful plans for the studio restricted light to come from the south and the east. He manipulated the sun’s rays with the use of glass and a translucent screen. He positioned sitters so that their eyes would not be affected in any way by sunlight.

Mr. Blanchard also developed a transparency copying process that was impressive in its effective simplicity. Standing the camera on a long wooden panel, in front of the lens he placed a perforated board upright upon which he positioned a negative. White cardboard is then sloped at a 45-degree angle, which reflects light through the negative. A black cloth is then placed over the camera and the board to keep out the light. His photographic experimentation continued in 1862, when he devised a process by which he could create immediate images of London daily street life with his stereoscopic camera.

After an 1870 explosion destroyed his studio in London's Camden Town, he relocated first in Piccadilly from 1871 to 1875, and then spent the remainder of his career at 289 Regent Street. In addition to being one of the most preeminent portrait photographers of the period, Mr. Blanchard was also an accomplished writer, penning several articles and editorials on photography along with the 1863 text, The Silver Sunbeam. In 1892, after his London studios closed, Mr. Blanchard attended the first meeting of the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring and received membership in the prestigious organization, which exhibited several of his portraits. Valentine Blanchard died on November 14, 1901, and though largely forgotten today, he was at the time heralded as an artist who "did so much to raise (photography’s) status and lay the foundations of what it has become today."

2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 166.

1921 The New Photo-Miniature, Vol. XVI (New York: Tennant and Ward), pp. 56-57.

1882 The Photographic Studios of Europe (London: Piper & Carter), pp. 59-63.

1902 Practical Junior Photographer, Vol. II (London: Humphries & Co., Ltd.), p. 173.

2010 Valentine Blanchard 1831-1901: A Once-Famous but Now Forgotten Victorian Photographer (URL:

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