Charles Smeaton, John Henry Parker and the earliest photography in the Roman catacombs

Wednesday 8 February, 18.00–19.30

John Osborne (Carleton; BSR)

Between 1864 and 1877 the British antiquarian, John Henry Parker, spent his winters in Rome where he developed a documentary photographic record of the city’s historic monuments, intended for both scholarly and public audiences. Photography in the Roman catacombs at first posed an insurmountable technical problem for Parker’s photographers, due to the total absence of natural light; but in January 1867 a Canadian photographer, Charles Smeaton, overcame this difficulty through the use of a recent invention, magnesium wire. This lecture will shed new light on the catacomb photos in the Parker collection, including Smeaton’s eyewitness account of the process, recently rediscovered in a family archive.