Tuwanek Sunshine Coast

Photography and Science:
Sir John Herschel

Artists and scientists have long held productive relationships especially with respect to the history of photography. One episode particularly relevant to Michael Benson's photograph of the Carina Nebula was the work of British astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871). As a result of his many observations of Eta Carinae, Hershel discovered an adjacent tower of darker dust and gas whose shape led him to name it the Keyhole Nebula.

It was also Herschel who made ground-breaking discoveries in the development of various photographic processes. In 1819, through his experiments with light-sensitive materials, he discovered the use of hyposulphite of soda ("hypo") as method of fixing photographic images (arresting the chemical development of exposures and making them permanent). The significance of this early discovery would not be fully realized for nearly two decades with the work of Henry Fox Talbot, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, and Nicéphore Niépce.

Herschel also invented the cyanotype process (a precursor of modern blueprint), and co-discovered the platinum process (on the basis of the light-sensitivity of platinum salts). Through several published papers, Herschel's use of the words "photography", "emulsion", "positive", and "negative" gave the experimental medium a common nomenclature that is still in use today.

Image: Portrait of Sir John Herschel, 1867, by Julia Margaret Cameron