Karol Adolf Beyer, youngest of three sons born to Warsaw lottery director Jan Gottlieb Wilhelm and prominent painter Henryka Minter Beyer, was born in Warsaw, Poland, on February 10, 1818. His father died the following year, and his widowed mother supported her family by opening an art school for women. Her sons, meanwhile, attended Warsaw High School, until its closure in 1831. Young Karol then briefly apprenticed for his uncle (and namesake) Karol Minter, before leaving for Paris, where he studied the new photographic process known as daguerreotype. For the next two years, he traveled throughout France and Germany, perfecting the technique until he felt he had sufficiently mastered it enough to open his own Warsaw gallery on Senatorska Street. Throughout the years, studio growth necessitated subsequent moves to Warecka Street and finally to the prestigious Krakowskie Przedmiescie.
In 1851, Mr. Beyer went to London to learn the preparation of collodion negatives, a technique he eagerly brought to Warsaw, with much success. His apprentices later became successful photographers in their own right, such as Teofil Boretti, Konrad Brandel, Meletiusz Dutkiewicz, Ferdynand Kloch, and Aleksander Kowalinski. Also in 1851, Mr. Beyer expanded his repertoire to scientific photography, and he made some of the earliest known daguerreotypes of a solar eclipse. He also photographed Polish medals and rare coin collections (he was also a gifted numismatist), which were exhibited throughout Warsaw. An interest in architecture led to Mr. Beyer's photographing local buildings and churches. His camera recorded the mid-century architectural changes in his hometown as well as celebrated its peasantry and their distinctive attire. By 1857, Mr. Beyer was utilizing the wet-collodion process to produce 360-degree panoramic views of downtown Warsaw.
Ever civic-minded, Mr. Beyer co-founded the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts, and was instrumental in the publication of the popular "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" ("Illustrated Weekly"). He was perhaps Poland's first political photographer, capturing the earliest known images of Russian forces patrolling Saski Square from his office window. He remained at the hub of Warsaw's artistic and sociopolitical activities, and his anti-Czarist sentiments resulted in his deportation to Siberia from 1862 to 1865. Mr. Beyer's return to Warsaw was bittersweet as he discovered his studio had been virtually gutted in his absence. With the assistance of acclaimed photographer Meletiusz Dutkiewicz, Mr. Beyer fully restored his studio, and expanded it further to include Warsaw's first collotype printing establishment, which published photographic albums on historic monuments, one of which was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit.
During the last decade of his life, Mr. Beyer experimented with the Albertotype technique taught to him by its inventor, Joseph Albert. Fifty-nine-year-old Karol Beyer died in Warsaw on November 8, 1877, and was buried in the Evangelical-Reformed Cemetery. He is fondly remembered in frequent Warsaw nineteenth-century photographic exhibition retrospectives as "the father of Polish photography."
1992 Conrad's Cities: Essays for Hans Van Marle, Vol. LXXXII (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi B.V.), p. 33.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 154.
2011 Karol Beyer by Magdalena Wróblewska (URL: http://culture.pl/en/artist/karol-beyer).
2012 Karol Beyer – Pierwsze Fotografie Krakowskiego Przedmieścia (URL: http://kultura.wp.pl/gid,14296440,galeria.html?T%5Bpage%5D=2&ticaid=119caa).
1992 The Polish Biographical Dictionary by Stanley S. Sokol (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers), p. 40.
2015 Warsaw's First Photographers. Beyer, Brandel, Fajans (URL: http://monovisions.com/warsaws-first-photographers-beyer-brandel-fajans).
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera