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  John Wheeley Gough Gutch

John Wheeley Gough Gutch was born in Kingsdown, Bristol, England on December 23, 1808. He was the son of prominent publisher and local politician John Mathew Gutch, who introduced him to an eclectic array of literary figures like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and early photographic pioneers Humphrey Davy and Thomas Wedgwood. After completing his medical studies as a surgeon at the infirmary, Dr. Gutch left England to practice medicine in Florence, Italy, and in 1832 married Elizabeth Frances Nicholson. He was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He spent his leisure time sketching the rich countryside of Florence using a camera obscura. He and his young family, which now included son John Frederick Lavender Gutch, left Italy to settle in Swansea, Wales, where the child died in March of 1838. Needing a distraction from his grief, Mr. Gutch began studying William Fox Talbot's calotype techniques, and he began conducting his own photographic experiments with chemist Robert Hunt in 1841. A man of diverse interests, he was a member of Great Britain's Meteorological Society, a fellow of the Linnean Society, and found an enthusiastic patron in Prince Albert, who was himself an accomplished amateur photographer.

In 1851, Dr. Gutch gave up his medical practice to become a messenger for Queen Victoria, and he began photographing the many cities he visited on his diplomatic missions. During a trip to Constantinople, he became seriously ill, resulting in permanent partial paralysis that ended his public service career. While undergoing experimental treatments in Malvern, England, Dr. Gutch again turned to photography as a cure for his melancholy. His works were exhibited throughout London and Edinburgh from 1856-1861, and he became a frequent contributor to the Photographic Notes publication. Dr. Gutch's camera of choice was Frederick Scott Archer's wet-plate camera because he liked the convenience of developing glass negatives within the camera, which eliminated the need for a darkroom. However, the camera proved too cumbersome for him to handle, and had to be manipulated by one of his photographic assistants. His photographs were printed on salt-treate paper and were placed into albums he painstakingly decorated with photographic collages.

Dr. Gutch's "picturesque" photographic style was influenced by artist William Gilpin. Unlike his mid-nineteenth century British contemporaries who recorded urban expansion, he preferred focusing on ancient buildings, rock formations, archaeolgical ruins, and tree-lined streams. In 1857, an assignment for Photographic Notes took him to Scotland, northern Wales, and the English Lake District, where he photographed the lush settings, but not always to his satisfaction. Two years' later, he aspired to photograph and document the more than 500 churches in Gloucestershire, a daunting and quite expensive task. He fitted his camera with a Ross Petzval wide-angle lens and managed to photograph more than 200 churches before illness forced him to abandon the ambitious project. Fifty-three-year-old John Wheeley Gough Gutch died in London on April 30, 1862.

2009 Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (London: The British Library), p. 264.

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 627-628.

2012 From Victorian Bathers to 21st Surfers, Wales' Love of the Coast Celebrated (Gallery). (URL:

1862 The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review, Vol. XIII (London: John Henry and James Parker), pp. 112-113.

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2013-04-18 18:24:59

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