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Is Photo Old or Oldest?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 3, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Sotheby's said on Wednesday that it would postpone the sale of an early photographic print known as a photogenic drawing because some scholars now believe that the print — an image of a leaf — may have been produced much earlier than previously thought, making it the earliest existing photographic image.

For many years the image was attributed to William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the fathers of photography, and was thought to have been made in 1839. But Larry J. Schaaf, an expert on Talbot's work, questioned that attribution in an essay in the catalog for the photography auction, which will still be held on Monday but without the leaf image, above. Mr. Schaaf wrote that there is evidence to suggest that the work titled "Leaf" — made by placing a leaf on photosensitive paper exposed to light — could have been created by the early photographic experimenters Thomas Wedgwood, James Watt or Humphry Davy. They are known to have produced photogenic drawings, also called photograms, as early as the 1790s, though no examples have ever been found. Denise Bethel, director of Sotheby's photograph department, said the auction house and the image's owner, an investment firm called the Quillan Company, had decided to postpone the sale of the print indefinitely until more research could be done.

By Randy Kennedy
For The New York Times

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