In photos: Remembering pioneer photographer Farnham Maxwell-Lyte

Farnham Maxwell-Lyte, c.1870
Farnham Maxwell-Lyte, c.1870

January 10, 2017 /Photography News/ Born 189 years ago today, on 10 January 1828, Farnham Maxwell-Lyte was a chemist and the pioneer of a number of techniques in photographic processing. As a photographer he is known for his views of the French Pyrenees.

Maxwell-Lyte was 16 when he first came across photography, hearing the news of William Henry Fox Talbot's invention of the calotype. In 1853, he travelled to Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the Pyrenees on account of his bad health and in 1856 his family joined him. He settled in Pau, and frequented an English circle where he met a group of photographers including John Stewart, Jean-Jacques Heilmann, Pierre Langlumé and Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, who were known as the "Group of Pau". He lived in France from 1853 until 1880. In 1854, he was one of the founders of the Société française de photographie and he was also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

Pyrenees, 1860 by Farnham Maxwell-Lyte
Pyrenees, 1860 by Farnham Maxwell-Lyte
As both a chemist and a photographer, Maxwell-Lyte made many improvements to the technique of photographic processing, working with collodion and wax paper, and introducing a process of his own invention which he called métagélatine; this process was adopted by several photographers and is described, as the "Metagelatine Dry Process", in Wilson's Cyclopedic Photography. In 1854 he wrote up the results of his investigations into what became known as the "honey" process. This was "a method of improving the wet-collodian process by extending the longevity of the sensitized plate". As its name suggests, in this process honey was used both as the preservative solution and in the dusting-in process. The 17 June 1854 issue of Notes and Queries contains his description and analysis of his experiments with the process. Maxwell-Lyte's letter appeared a fortnight after George Shadbolt, former editor of the British Photographic Journal, had independently contacted the Photographic Society (now the Royal Photographic Society), giving his description of an identical experiment with honey.

Farnham Maxwell-Lyte - Pont d'Orthez, Basses-Pyrénées, c. 1858
Farnham Maxwell-Lyte - Pont d'Orthez, Basses-Pyrénées, c. 1858
In the April 1862 issue of the British Journal of Photography he published his findings on the presence of "anti-chlors" in photographic paper, a substance that jeopardised the stability of silver prints. He introduced borax and phosphate toning baths that are still used today, as well as pioneering the use of iodide.

Cascade d'Enfer between Castillon-de-Larboust and Cazeaux-de-Larboust, Haute-Garonne, Pyrenees, France, c. 1858
Cascade d'Enfer between Castillon-de-Larboust and Cazeaux-de-Larboust, Haute-Garonne, Pyrenees, France, c. 1858
Maxwell-Lyte photographed the mountains, villages, waterfalls and bridges of the Pyrenees, often exhibiting his photographs under the auspices of the Société française de photographie. He showed them almost every year from 1855 to 1865 in cities such as London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Paris, and received several international prizes.

Maxwell-Lyte gave up photography when he moved with his family to Dax. He died suddenly in 1906 at his residence in South Kensington, London.

Source: Wikipedia


  1. Anonymous says

    Good morning Photography News!

    Photography News says

    Good morning Anonymous! :)

    Carlos says

    Beautiful pictures!

    Jane J. says

    Too bad we rarely can capture beauty like that nowadays... Is it technology's fault? Did we grow into some less sensitive human beings? Did the world change so much?

    Anonymous says

    A very interesting post and photographer. This same group of Pau, specifically Heillman, we have shown a photograph of the CFRivero Collection in Cordoba last year. Cheers. Here's more information

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    Unknown says

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