Just in time for spring, we've listed One Hundred Photographs from Life of British Birds and the Shrew-Mouse, Dormouse, etc., two charming books of early wildlife photography, one by the pioneering bird photographer R. B. Lodge.
Prior to the 1890s, the technological limitations of cameras meant that animal photography usually took place in zoos. Lodge was one of a group of photographers who pushed the technology to new levels in the quest to photograph nature, and is now recognised as having taken the first photograph of a wild bird, a lapwing on its nest, in 1895. (The illustration of a lapwing below is probably not the famous first photo, but we have not been able to determine that for sure.)
Recent research has made it clear that “animals were not simply one photographic subject among many. They were one of the key subjects driving the technical development of photography” (Brower, Developing Animals, p. 21.) For example, “In the mid-1890s, Lodge and his young assistant, Oliver Pike, used to push a 12 x 10-inch plate camera around the English countryside in a wheelbarrow. But Pike became so frustrated with all the pushing that he developed his own 'Bird-land Camera’, which was portable enough to be used for stalking as well as from static hides” (Carwardine, “Origins of Wildlife Photography”, BBC Wildlife, February 2012). Lodge himself was a founding member of the Zoological Photographic Club (still in operation and the world’s oldest natural history photographic society), and was awarded the first ever medal for nature photography by the Royal Photographic Society.
The first book about animals to be illustrated with photographs was British Birds’ Nests, by Richard and Cherry Kearton. (Published in 1895, the same year that Lodge took his lapwing photo, this volume depicted nests but not the birds that made them.) Nature has always been a popular subject for the book buying public, and as cameras became more advanced, books of wildlife photography quickly appeared on the market.
Our two books appeared in 1909 as the first in a planned series of inexpensive mass-market editions by the publisher Cassell & Co., but it seems that no further volumes were ever published. They include 100 illustrations each, including both wild-taken and staged photos, with extensive notes on the natural history of the animals depicted. Interestingly, both these volumes bear the trade ticket of Pratt & Sons of Brighton, one of the most important taxidermy and natural history supply firms in southern England, in operation between 1851 and 1952 and responsible for about 50 of the avian dioramas in Brighton’s wonderful Booth Museum. (The copy of a Pratt & Sons trade ticket below was kindly provided by the Ayre & Co. Taxidermy & Natural History firm.)
Below, more illustrations from these delightful books, including adorable mice and what may be my favourite photo of an owl ever made: