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Walter B. Woodbury

Photographic printing pioneer Walter Bentley Woodbury was born in Manchester, England on June 26, 1834. Primarily raised by his maternal grandfather, the young boy showed amazing scientific aptitude at an early age, and was excelling in the challenging wet-collodion process before the age of 18.

Relocating to Melbourne in 1852 to become a gold miner, Mr. Woodbury quickly switched to photography and began making wet plates of the magnificent Australian landscape. He was awarded a medal at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854 for his collection of photographs entitled, '9 views of Melbourne, taken by the Collodion process on glass.' He experimented with stereo and panoramic photography and worked out of a studio situated in the gold fields of Northern Melbourne.

In 1857, Mr. Woodbury and his business partner James Page journeyed to Java, where they established a lucrative photographic company. He applied his scientific knowledge to successfully adapting the wet-collodion technique to tropical climates. Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Page took what are regarded to be the first known photographs of Batavia (now known as Jakarta). Henry James Woodbury joined his brother's team, and the trio traveled throughout Java until they parted company in 1860. Mr. Woodbury remained in Batavia and sold albumen prints of the region, which are believed to be the first of their kind.

Despite achieving great success as a photographer, Walter B. Woodbury's enduring fascination with chemistry led to his experimentation with stereoscopy, balloon photography, electromagnetic shutters, and photoceramics. He began printing photo-relief photographs with clear white margins, a process for which he received a patent in 1864. This evolved into the Woodburytype process, which allowed images to be mass-produced without diminishing their quality. Although the machinery required for this process was costly, the Woodburytype was employed to produce intricate text illustrations and cartes-de-visite.

During an 1871 visit to the United States, Mr. Woodbury purchased the English rights to Sciopticon lantern projector, one of more than 20 patents he would receive in his lifetime. Eight years' later, he would patent a more simplified and higher quality Stannotype process, but its hefty price tag prevented it from competing with its cheaper and substandard counterparts. Photogravure (photo engraving) was Mr. Woodbury's primary scientific focus in the 1870s. In this process, prints were produced using a photomechanical technique that involved the electro-deposition of copper. It was a slow, painstaking, and very expensive process, but one Mr. Woodbury believed was necessary to create superior photographs. He received many honors for his photography and his inventions, including a gold medal at Moscow's Polytechnic Exposition in 1872 and a Progress Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in 1883. Always a trailblazer, he dabbled in film photography before the Eastman Company overtook the genre.

Walter B. Woodbury's active lifestyle was sharply curtailed by the onset of diabetes, for which he was prescribed laudanum, a type of opium that had been prescribed for yellow during the nineteenth century. He died from an accidental overdose of laudanum on September 5, 1885. Today, Walter Bentley Woodbury is best remembered for his exotic photographs of Australia and Java and for the Woodburytype.



Ref:
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1509-1510.
1888 A History of Photography (London: Trubner & Co.), p. 112.
1866 The Photographic News, Vol. X (London: Thomas Piper), p. 584).
1892 Photography: Its History, Processes, Apparatus, and Materials (London: Charles Griffin and Company), pp. 141-142.
1902 The Photo-miniature, Vol. IV, No .37 (New York: Tennant and Ward), p.10.
1904 The Photo-miniature, Vol. VI, No. 67 (New York: Tennant and Ward), p. 667.
1899 Six Thousand Years of History, Vol. X (Philadelphia: E.R. DuMont), pp. 137, 401-402


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