The Paper Negative: A Unique Magic

11 - 14 October 2012

A special highlight at Frieze Masters 2012 by James Hyman, F11

James Hyman will present a special exhibition devoted to early British and French paper negatives. Amongst the most beautiful of all early photographs are paper negatives. Often even more atmospheric than the resulting positive prints, these paper negatives are often embellished with pencil, ink, watercolour and even varnish. This was a means by which the photographer could enhance the resulting print - Baldus for example added clouds to skies - but also increases their extraordinary presence as unique objects comparable to drawings and watercolours. Chance issues, such as the unevenness with which chemicals are brushed on, curious chemical colours and even the bleaching caused by drops of the hypo-sulphate fixing agent all combine to enhance their uniqueness.

It was once common-place to simply reproduce modern prints of paper negatives for which no extant print was known, but it has become increasingly recognised that the paper negative has its own status both due to its uniqueness and due to an awareness that it is often more magical than the resulting positive prints.

Andre Jammes in his pioneering study, The Art of French Calotype, emphasises the importance of the paper negative:

French amateurs took up paper negative photography in the 1840s and 1850s, they did more than exploit a process; they originated an art. This study deals with the allure of the paper negative. We have investigated mid-nineteenth-century French paper negative photography as other historians might examine early nineteenth-century English watercolour or late fifteenth-century German engraving, that is - in order to gain an understanding of an art in its Golden Age. Our interest in these photographs derives from an attraction to their beauty. pp XIII-XIV