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The Power of Photography

Charles Newton and the birth of archaeological photography

Rupert Scott on Charles Newton and the birth of archaeological photography. (This article was a footnote to Digging for Glory, Cornucopia 41)

By 1856 photography was no longer new, but recent developments had made it vastly cheaper, faster and more reliable. In 1850 Frederick Scott Archer had developed the wet collodion process, in which a glass plate is coated with a light-sensitive chemical solution, exposed while still moist, then developed in a darkroom. Inexpensive prints could then be made from the glass negative, and the quality of the images was high. Cameras could now be used in the field.

Charles Newton seems to have realised the huge potential value of photography to his expedition only days before its departure. On October 10, 1856 he wrote to the Foreign Office requesting photograhic apparatus at a cost of £75-£100 for use by a sapper trained in photography. The Foreign Office agreed to buy the camera on condition that it remained its property.

Newton makes several good arguments for the value of photography to the venture, principally its use as an archaeological record and its value to admiralty chart-makers.But photography was to have an even more important use: the power to communicate his archaeological endeavours vividly to his superiors in London.

His photographs, developed in the field and sent home, thrilled the Foreign Secretary, who forwarded them to Prince Albert. “The Prince is delighted with these,” writes Clarendon in June 1857. This may help explain why a normally parsimonious government was prepared to finance the expedition for over two years.

The expedition’s photographers worked hard. In fact, in 1857 Corporal Spackman, the original photographer, became ill from overwork and was replaced by Corporal McCartney. The total cost of photographic materials used by the expedition from 1856 to 1859 was over £133, about 2% of the entire budget.

Some 300 photographs were taken, of which not all have survived. Most record the diggings, but time was also found to photograph Bodrum Castle – a 360-degree panorama from the hills above the town – and nearby archaeological sites such as Lagina and Labranda and Didyma.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 41

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Issue 41, 2009 Inside Istanbul’s Grand Hammams
£8.00 / $10.13 / €9.45
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 41
  • Barbarossa’s Baths

    Another masterpiece by the imperial architect Sinan, the Cınılı Hammam in the Old City of Istanbul was built for the legendary corsair-turned-admiral Barbaros Hayrettın Pasha, or Barbarossa, in the 1540s. Today it is far from grand, and only a few of the tiles that gave it the name Çınılı (Tiled) are still in evidence. But nothing can diminish the effect of the soaring curvy arches supporting a series of imposing domes.

  • Dome of Baroque

    When it was built in 1741 in the new Baroque style, Cağaloğlu was at the forefront of architectural fashion. But this temple of cleanliness in the Old City marks the dramatic swansong of the grand Ottoman hammam.

  • Digging for Glory

    Bodrum’s peace was shattered in 1856 by the arrival of a warship bearing one of the most ambitious archaeological expeditions Britain has ever launched. Leading it was Charles Newton. His mission was to locate, excavate and carry home one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

  • The Poetry Within

    An antiquarian’s deliciously distressed house in the Aegean was Berrin Torolsan’s first inspiration for the text of a new book on Turkish interiors. In this extract from At Home in Turkey, with photographs by Solvi dos Santos, she is captivated by a low-key restoration.

  • Celery’s Sibling

    Although commonly regarded as a root vegetable, like the potato, carrot or turnip, the bulbous part of the celeriac plant is not actually the root but a corm, the base of the leaf stems, out of which modest roots will grow.
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  • Joy in a Bottle

    On the tiny island of Bozcaada (Tenedos), a mere speck in the Aegean, great wines are emerging that rival the best the world can ofer. The Corvus vineyards, once among the Mediterranean’s most celebrated, have suffered centuries of neglect. Kevin Gould raises a glass to their renaissance with the founder of Corvus, Resit Soley.
    See Cornucopia’s self-guided wine tour

Buy the issue
Issue 41, 2009 Inside Istanbul’s Grand Hammams
£8.00 / $10.13 / 331.55 TL
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