Janez Puhar (1814-1864)

Janez Puhar
Janez Puhar, Self-Portrait, original photograph is lost (transformation after the negative in National Museum of Slovenia, 14,5 x 9,8 cm, inventory number F-65 (photo: Tomaž Lauko, NMS)

A documentary exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the first Slovenian photographer and photographic inventor

Opening: 4 June at 7.30 pm

4-28 June 2014

ZRC Atrium, Ljubljana

WHERE: Novi trg 2, Ljubljana

Janez Puhar was born on 26 August 1814 in Kranj. He attended Normalschule in Kranj and grammar school in Ljubljana, where he later studied theology. In 1838 he became a parish assistant. He served as a chaplain in various places. He died in Kranj on 7 August 1864. Janez Puhar probably first encountered the daguerreotype back in 1839. He mastered the daguerreotype process the following year. But his daguerreotypes have not survived. While serving in Metlika he undertook the first independent attempts involving glass plates. The daguerreotype (a unique image on a silver-plated metal plate) was a demanding and expensive photographic technique. So Puhar invented a more affordable and simpler way of taking photographs with the help of glass plates treated with sulphur vapours. He continued with his experiments in Ljubno in the Gorenjska region and in Bled.The official date of Puhar’s invention is 19 April 1842. At the time he was a chaplain in Gorenjska. The date is stated in Puhar’s letter to the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna (Archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, folder, Puhar 18/1851). Puhar used sulphur, iodine and bromine vapours, mercury and alcohol. Puhar used a simple, hand-made camera similar to camera obscura. The camera had a plain glass lens. The exposure initially lasted for one minute, but later fifteen seconds in strong light sufficed. The whole process took between five and eight minutes.

The special characteristics of Puhar’s work were a chemical process involving sulphur vapours and a dry photographic process. Because he used vapours, he did not need to bathe the plates. The daguerreotype was a photograph on an opaque copper plate, on which a mirror image was captured. After taking a photo and fixing the image, Puhar reversed the glass plate to achieve the natural position of the captured motif. Only six of Puhar’s photographs, created with his own chemical process (the “puhartype” or an improved later version of it), have been preserved and are known today. Most of these are housed at the National Museum of Slovenia. Puhar’s invention predates by five years a similar invention by the Frenchman Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor (1805–1870), a generally acknowledged inventor of glass-plate photography. His photographs were exhibited at the great exhibitions in London (1851), New York (1852) and Paris (1855). In 1852 the French National Academy of Agriculture, Manufacturing and Trade (Académie Nationale, Agricole, Manufacturière et Commerciale) honoured him with membership and a diploma.

dr. Damir Globočnik