Benjamin Brecknell Turner Related Artists and Influences
Like many of his upper-middle class contemporaries, Turner was no doubt familiar with the established picturesque tradition in the visual arts. The practice of making topographical and artistic landscape views, which were at least begun outdoors, had a distinguished history in Britain beginning in earnest from the 1750s. The early amateur photographers found affinities with their artist forebears such as Thomas Girtin (1775 -1802), Cornelius Varley (1781-1873), John Sell Cotman (1782 -1842), Peter De Wint (1784 -1849) and John Constable (1776 -1837) who worked from the late 18th through the early decades of the 19th century with a new emphasis on naturalism. Like the painters and watercolourists before them, the amateur photographers of Turner's circle also found inspiration in the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge and others.
Roger Fenton (1819 - 1869) was a prolific and influential photographer active in the 1850s. In 1853, he was instrumental in establishing the Photographic Society, of which Turner was also a founding member. During his brief photographic career, Fenton pursued every major genre of photography, recording subjects that ranged from the Crimean War to objects in the British Museum, where he was the first official photographer. Fenton also photographed the landscape of England and Wales, and made numerous views of the ruined abbeys of Yorkshire.
Like Turner, he recorded these subjects with technical skill and with an awareness of their significance both as symbols of national heritage and as moving reminders of human mortality. Although not strictly a gentleman amateur in the sense that Turner was-Fenton did attempt to earn a living through photography-he shared the conviction of many amateurs that photography could be an expressive, artistic medium. The increased tensions between upper-middle class amateurs like Turner and commercial photographers may have influenced Fenton's decision to give up photography in 1862.
Although the talented amateur photographer William Sherlock (born 1813) exhibited extensively in many of the same early photographic exhibitions as Turner, today he is a relatively obscure figure in the history of photography. Sherlock corresponded with Talbot in a failed attempt to obtain a license to make portraits from the inventor of the calotype. Instead of pursuing portraiture, he turned his camera on British pastoral life in the 1850s.
Although he shared Turner's affinity for rustic subject matter, Sherlock chose to depict the people who lived and worked in the countryside, while Turner kept his rural landscapes largely devoid of humans. Like his reputation, many of Sherlock's prints have faded over the years, probably because he did not rinse them thoroughly enough. A number of photographs that were once attributed to an artist named John Whistler are now believed to be by Sherlock.
Over 150 years after Turner photographed human interactions with the rural landscape, Jem Southam (born 1950) addresses similar themes with a comparable sensitivity and attention to detail. Southam is renowned for his series of colour landscape photographs, beginning in the 1970s and continuing until the present. His trademark is the patient observation of changes at a single location over many months or years and his subjects are predominately situated in the south west of England. He observes the balance between nature and man's intervention, tracing cycles of decay and renewal.
Southam uses a large format camera-similar in scale to those used by amateur photographers in the 1850s-to produce 8 x 10 inch (20.5 x 25.5 cm) negatives that record a high level of detail. Other contemporary practitioners making contemplative photographs of rural Britain using large format cameras include Gerhard Stromberg and Mark Edwards.