colorimeter

If the technology that Jack preferred for grooming was ground to dust by modernity, the basically Renaissance technology that Lesley chose for representation, drawing with pencils and inks, painting with watercolours, gouache and oils, had been under attack for a hundred years or more. During this period, photography and optics gained an increasing grasp the mechanics and chemistry of representation, so that by the time that she was plying her art, Lesley had to compete for public attention with moving, even three-dimensional images that talked and played tunes. The creature from the Black Lagoon loomed from the cinema screen.

By this time, artists had cannily shifted their endeavours to areas beyond the reach of the new technologies, infusing their work with the mind rather than the world, as the business of representation was appropriated first by scientists, then by keen enthusiasts, then by everybody who could afford a camera.

Jules Duboscq studied optics in Paris in the 1830s under Jean-Baptiste Soleil, whose hundred-year lifetime oversaw the creation, ab initio, of photography. Duboscq was to be a major contributor to this process. He was known as a skilled mechanic, and improved the design of various optical instruments of the time, inventing among many other ingenious devices the ‘bioscope’, a stereoscopic camera where exposures were made by sparks from an electric arc, and the ‘colorimeter’, a light-sensitive device for measuring colours by filtering their red, green and blue components as in the human eye, still used in laboratories in an almost unchanged form. He was made an officer of the Legion d’ Honneur and won medals at various World Fairs, but it was in photography that he excelled, and his Practical Rules for Photography remained a handbook of the craft for many years. Perhaps some of the honour this bourgeois technician managed to attract was due in part to the growing popularity of photography, its promise as an aide memoire that could deliver actual verisimilitude. Certainly during his lifetime, the camera took over the main function of portraiture as the rising middle classes recorded their images; and it is due to his efforts and those of his peers that my family photo albums are populated with the true likenesses of my ancestors. After all, art was always art, which is to say somehow contrived and therefore untrustworthy, but the camera never lies.

In spite of these historical conditions, Lesley’s art was always rooted in the world rather than the mind. Although in decorative art she leant towards the formal, her drawings and paintings were, almost without exception, based on actual observations. She was not an intellectual artist, and it was things and people that she strove to record, always seeking in the objects arrayed before her the already existing patterns and meanings that she wanted to convey.

Why is it that we remember the names of hundreds of artists who advanced the development of painting during the time of Duboscq, but only specialists are familiar with Duboscq’s name and achievements? The answer is relatively simple: Duboscq has come to be seen as a technician, a discoverer and not an inventor or originator; not himself a painter or artist.

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