Dr Richard Leach Maddox, portrait by W.E. Debenham, c 1880. (Gernsheim 1988:253) (London photographer William Debenham was the older brother of Southampton photographer Edwin Debenham).
Richard Leach Maddox was not a commercial portrait photographer, but is included as a Southampton Victorian Photographer for his important contribution to the development of photographic processes while living in the Southampton area. He was a physician who recognised photography's potential in the study of micro organisms, and its possible uses in other scientific research. As well as practising medicine, Maddox published a huge number of scientific papers on a range of subjects. While experimenting with photomicrography Maddox found the collodion wet plate process unsatisfactory and bad for his health, and worked to discover a method using gelatin and bromide. His initial work was developed by others and resulted in the dry plate process , which produced more detailed images, required a shorter exposure time, and allowed the photographer more time to develop the plates after exposure.
In the 1830s Maddox studied medicine at University College Hospital, London. Despite living to an advanced age, he suffered from health problems all his life, and in 1839 he embarked on a world tour for the benefit of his health. On his return he qualified in London and then went back to Constantinople to practice medicine, where he married Amelia Ford in 1849. According to an obituary written by his daughter Isabella, Maddox became interested in photography in around 1853.
The 1861 census recorded Maddox, his wife Amelia, and children Isabella and Richard, living in Onslow Terrace, Woolston. A concentration of medical professionals lived in Woolston due to its proximity to the new The Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley. Unconfirmed evidence suggests that around this time Arthur Walter/Walton Adams (of Adams and Stilliard) learned the art of photography from Maddox.
Adams gave his occupation as apprentice for the 1861 census, although no detail was given about the trade he was apprenticed to. Adams was lodging in Millbrook, so it seems possible that he worked with Dr Maddox before he worked with Samuel Wiseman. Samuel Wiseman's career combined photography with carving and gilding and a Fine Art Dealership. When Adams and Stilliard established their photography partnership in about 1864, they initially traded as 'The South of England Photographic Institution, Late Wiseman', thereby associating their partnership with a respected Artist in Photography, and expressing scientific connections by use of the phrase 'Photographic Institution'. (Many years later Adams named his Reading premises 'The Science and Art Studio'). It seems highly unlikely that Maddox did not know Wiseman, and also other photographers working in Southampton in the 1860s, and that he consulted with them while working on gelatin plates.
By 1863 Maddox had moved to Marine Villa, Woolston and was listed as a surgeon in the 1863 Southampton Post Office Directory. In 1871 Maddox freely published his findings on the use of gelatin plates in the British Journal of Photography, and made no fees for sharing his work. In the same year the census recorded him as a medical doctor, 'not practicing at present, ill health.' Maddox was living in Woolston with his wife, daughter, and son Richard, an artist.
Sixteen years later, in 1887, Maddox wrote to Mr William Jerome Harrison in response to his questions about why he had looked for an alternative to the collodion process. The first reason Maddox gave was the cost of the method. The following extract from the letter explains the second and third reasons for his research.
'The first reason may be dismissed of as little moment when there was an adequate return upon the work done, but not so when there was an absolute loss even in an amateur's point of view. The second reason was a more important one. Being often shut up for hours in the said camera, the temperature at full summer heat, I found the system completely saturated with the vapour of the collodion, so much so that it could be tasted in the breath on awakening in the night, and sleep was generally much disturbed and unrefreshing, while it was much needed to restore the nervous energy wasted by constant suffering, often very severe in character; moreover, there was an outcry in the household that the collodion vapour unpleasantly pervaded every room in the house. The third reason that I could find no satisfactory dry or sticky process that did not embrace the first two reasons, and add another of its own in the shape of additional time and trouble in the preparation of the plate.' Hughes 2013:74
In December 1871 Amelia Maddox died in Woolston. Maddox married again in 1875, and he and second wife Agnes lived abroad for a few years before returning to England, where their son Walter was born in Southampton in 1880. In 1881 Maddox and family were in Chiswick for the census, and his occupation was given as medical doctor, but again he was 'not practising', presumably due to ill health.
In 1886 Maddox returned to the Southampton area and settled in Portswood. Despite coming from a wealthy background, the complex terms of his father's will meant that he did not inherit when his father died. As Maddox had never made any profit from his photographic invention, and due to long periods of ill health when he was unable to work, by the late 1880s he was in financial difficulties. However, in 1891 a trust to assist Maddox was set up via the British Journal of Photography and the Photographic Society of Great Britain, and generous contributions were made from around the world.
Maddox died in Portswood in 1902, having at last won some recognition for his contribution to the development of the dry plate process, and having received various awards for his achievements in later life.
Gernsheim, H. (1988) The Rise of Photography 1850-1880. London: Thames and Hudson.
Hannavy, J. (ed.) (2013) Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
Hughes, S. (2013). Catchers of the light. 1st ed. Paphos, Cyprus: ArtDeCiel Pub.
Art and medicine bibliography, Richard Leach Maddox. Available at: http://www.artandmedicine.com/biblio/reference/Maddox.html