I graduated in chemistry at the University of Oxford (1962), subsequently obtaining a doctorate by research in molecular spectroscopy (1965), and then following an academic path as Lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Manchester (1964-92), becoming a Chartered Chemist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (1982).
In 1992, early retirement from my academic post allowed me to commit myself to the independent study of the science, history, conservation, and art of alternative photographic processes. A Kodak Photographic Bursary (1984) had initially supported my research on printing in noble metals, which was recognised by the award of the Hood Medal of the Royal Photographic Society (1990), of which I was a Fellow, and by the Richard Farrand Memorial Award of the British Institute of Professional Photographers (1991). As a photographer I was only self-taught, but my experience has been greatly enriched by collaboration with the noted photographic artist and teacher, Professor Pradip Malde.
The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, now the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, England, employed me as a consultant, and I have supervised postgraduate research in photograph conservation at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and in alternative photographic processes at the University of Derby. I acted as the first External Examiner for the new MA course in Photographic Studies at De Montfort University. In 2010 I was appointed as a scientific advisor to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, with the consequence that in 2016 the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works awarded me their Special Recognition of Allied Professonals.
The results of my researches into the history and improvement of alternative processes such as the Platinotype, Cyanotype, and Chrysotype, and the invention of the new Argyrotype process, are described in seventy publications in both the academic and popular photographic literature, including six books; some of these are available in these pages. My studies of the evolution of early photography have been published in the scholarly periodical, History of Photography. The conservation of the first photographs on paper is the subject of my book Mechanisms of Image Deterioration in Early Photographs, (1994), and Herschel's blueprint process is described in my book Cyanotype: the History, Science and Art of Photographic Printing in Prussian Blue (1999), both published by the National Museum of Science and Industry, London. During November 1999, I gratefully accepted a Mellon Research Fellowship at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, in order to study the archives of Sir John Herschel, in preparation for my third and fourth books: The Chrysotype Manual and Gold in Photography (2006), both published by ffotoffilm. In 2021 Pradip Malde and I sealed our collaboration by authoring the Routledge publication Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process.
By way of an artistic counterbalance to these scientific and scholarly activities, and as “proof of concept”, since 1981 my personal photographic work has been widely exhibited in the UK, Europe, the USA, Australia, and China; examples have been acquired for several national collections. I have conducted specialist workshops and masterclasses in alternative printing techniques, and appeared on BBC Television in the Open University series 'The Chemistry of Creativity' (1995).
Photography, for me, provides an ideal meeting ground for the rather distanced disciplines of science and art: I find my raison d'etre in the endeavour to bridge the notorious gap between these 'Two Cultures', by enlisting chemical science to enhance the art of photographic expression, and so produce permanent, accessible records for our visual culture, preserving those observations of the world that hold personal significance for us.
My Scottish ancestors, from Orkney and Shetland, belonged to the family Irvine, whose motto is Sub Sole sub Umbra Virens: “Flourishing in sunlight and shadow”.
I am content with that.back to top