John Traill Taylor is believed to have been born in 1827, although he once admitted, "The fact is, I cannot tell to a year or two the exact date of my birth." What is known is that he was born in the Orkney Islands of Scotland to a watchmaker and his wife, and attended Kirkwall Grammar School. He went to Edinburgh in 1845 to continue his studies in optics and chemistry, and apprenticed as an optician, jeweler, and watchmaker. He also became acquainted with the relatively new daguerreotype process. He later recalled, "At this time my eyes rested upon the first daguerreotype portrait that exerted so great an influence upon my career... I was not satisfied until I had thoroughly mastered the mystery." In his workroom, friends would gather to talk about the latest photographic advances. These informal meetings would later become the Edinburgh Photographic Society. By 1860, Mr. Taylor was lecturing on photographic uses of optical lanterns, and these lectures included the first-ever slide presentation. Three years' later, he introduced a lens he constructed fitted with an adjustable focus to the Photographic Society of Scotland.
In 1864, Mr. Taylor turned his attentions to journalism, and became the editor of The British Journal of Photography (BJP), a position he retained until 1880 when he relocated to New York to become editor of The Photographic Times. Under Mr. Taylor's astute leadership, The Photographic Times was transformed from a monthly journal into a daily publication. It became the 'go-to' text for amateurs and professionals alike on the latest international photography news. By the mid-1880s, he reassumed editorship of the BJP, and in 1886 became one of the founding members of the Photographic Convention of Great Britain, serving as its president for three years. Mr. Taylor was also a frequent contributor to The Scientific American, The Popular Science Review, and The Journal of the Society of Arts. He also rewrote and edited the ninth addition of Hardwich's Photographic Chemistry, and penned several important photographic texts including "Amateur Photographer" and "The Optics of Photography."
By the late 1880s, Mr. Taylor was contemplating retirement. He purchased an orange grove in Florida where he planned to live out his remaining years. He died there suddenly in November 1895, and in one photographic journal obituary, it was written that J. Traill Taylor's name "will live as long as photography is practiced." His friends established the J. Traill Taylor Memorial Fund for the purpose of financing educational lectures on photography.
1896 The American Amateur Photographer, Vol. VIII (New York: The Outing Company, Limited), p. 75.
1895 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXVI (New York: E & H. T. Anthony & Co.), p. 412.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1382.
1895 The Photogram, Vol. II (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), pp. 57-58.
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