King of Photographic Picture-Making – Henry Peach Robinson Or HP Robinson (1830 – 1901)

English Pictorialist Photographer Henry Peach Robinson or H.P. Robinson was born to John Robinson, a schoolteacher & Eliza Robinson on July 09, 1830, at Ludlow, Shropshire, England. After completing his primary education from Horatio Russell’s Academy at the age of thirteen and a year’s drawing tuitions from Richard Penwarne, Robinson began his artistic journey as an apprentice to Richard Jones, a Ludlow bookseller and printer.

Following an initial struggle, working as a bookseller with Bromsgrove (1850) and Whittaker & Co. (1851), Henry Robinson was finally able to exhibit his oil painting, “On the Teme near Ludlow” at the Royal Academy in 1852. Robinson’s longing for doing something atypical, stirred him towards a new technique called ‘High Art’ or ‘Combination Photographs.’ These photographs are created by putting together several pieces of different negatives to achieve one impressive picture, a harbinger of ‘Photomontage.’ A meeting with renowned photographer, Hugh Welch Diamond, in 1855, left Henry certain of his penchant for the art and he opened a studio at Leamington Spa to sell ‘High Art’ portraits and later setting up another studio at Kent. In 1856, Henry met Victorian Art Photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander, similar & the intense artistic inclinations of the duo made them the founding members of the Birmingham Photographic Society. In 1858, the artist created his first acclaimed Combination Photograph, “Fading Away.”

At the age of twenty-nine, in 1859, Henry married Selina Grieves, the daughter of a Ludlow chemist. Robinson took to ill health because of his exposure to toxic photographic chemicals, resulting in the closing down of his studio in 1864. The artist however, resorted to the ‘scissors and paste-pot’ method. “Fading Away” (1858) is Henry’s magnum opus, which portrays the death of a young girl from tuberculosis, surrounded by her grief-stricken family. Some other remarkable pieces are “The Lady of Shallot” (1861), “Autumn” (1863), and “Seascape at night” (1870).

By 1869, Robinson relocated to London, where he authored incredibly inspirational essays on photographic practices such as “Effect in Photography, Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers.” As his health improved, Robinson along with Nelson King Cherrill opened a new studio in Tunbridge Wells. A year later, in 1870, he became the vice-president of the Royal Photographic Society, where he raised his voice for considering photography as an art form.

In spite of the dissolution of his professional association with Cherrill in 1875, Robinson persisted with the work, until he retired in 1888. He resigned in 1891, due to Photographic Society’s lack of consideration for photography as an art. Henry went on to join Linked Ring Society, an opponent society, as a member, where he continued until 1900. By this time, the Royal Photographic Society restored its association with Robinson and awarded him with an Honorary Fellowship, to recognize his contributions for photography as an art form.

Henry Robinson was a distinguished art photographer of the 1800s, an avid follower of Pre-Raphaelites and highly influenced by the works of John Ruskin & J.M.W. Turner. The artist successfully captured the eternal existence of ‘Mediaeval’ setting. He breathed his last on February 21, 1901. Henry Peach Robinson was buried at Tunbridge Wells.