Janez Avguštin Puhar (August 26, 1814 - August 7, 1864) was a Slovene Catholic priest, inventor, scientist, photographer, artist and poet. His name was usually rendered as Johann Pucher in Western European countries.
Puhar is notable as the inventor of a very unusual process for making photographs on glass. Although his were not the first glass photographs,[note 1] as has been mistakenly claimed, his invention is unique among 19th century processes as the only one not based on expensive silver halide chemistry and yet sensitive enough for use in a camera, with exposure times comparable to the daguerreotype and calotype. Other non-silver processes, such as the cyanotype, were practical only for making prints or photograms in direct sunlight. Puhar's process was never commercialized and he may have kept key details secret, as recent attempts to recreate it based on the contemporary published information have so far been unsuccessful. Modern non-destructive testing of surviving original specimens has confirmed the chemically unusual nature of the images.
Janez Puhar was born on August 26 in 1814 in Kranj. At the time, the present-day Slovenia was a part of the Austrian Empire and named the Duchy of Carniola. Puhar's predecessors had been declared to having lived in Kranj since the beginning of the 17th century. The name underwent some changes and can be found in several spelling variations: as Puhar, Puher, Puchar, Pucher, Puechar, Puecher. He didn't have any children, but many of his relatives still live in Kranj, Ljubljana and elsewhere in Slovenia and abroad.
Already in school he was an outstanding child, curious, intelligent, interested in natural sciences, art, languages, astronomy and especially in chemistry and physics. He wanted to study art, but – as usual for that time – obeyed his mother's wish and became a priest. He was extremely talented. Beside the duties of a priest he was attracted to experimenting in photography and art – he drew and painted, wrote songs and produced his own instruments. He spoke several European and Oriental languages. His path: Kranj, Ljubljana, Leskovec, Svibno, Metlika, Ljubno, Radovljica, Bled, Cerklje, Smlednik, Kamnik in Dovje. He died in his birthplace Kranj. Janez Puhar was unavoidably attracted by photography. When the French Academy announced the invention of daguerreotype (19th of August 1839) he soon mastered the process. But it was too expensive, so he developed his own way of making photographs. On April 19th 1842, Puhar invented photography on glass. He called it hyalotype or "svetlopis" in Slovenian. His photos are called also as puharotypes in his honor. The first report about his invention was published in the newspaper Carniolia in 1841. In Bled, where Puhar spent the happiest period of his life, he met a French viscount Louis de Dax, who wrote about his talents in the Parisian magazine La Lumière. After his successes during the Bled period, the Church moved him to a small village Cerklje, where his contacts with interesting people and news from abroad lessened. He was still experimenting but the photography development went in other directions. He became sick from his experiments with harmful substances and died aged only 49 years.
Sensational news about the daguerreotype invention echoed across Europe. Soon after the announcement in 1939, Puhar already mastered the new process. Its disadvantages – inverted image, inability to copy, long-lasting exposition, expensive ingredients – and his investigative spirit led him to his own different approach. He used sulfur, mercury, bromine, iodine, alcohol and a brilliant novelty – transparent glass. His first success was reported by the newspaper Carniolia in May and June 1841. Later on he improved his discoveries and succeeded with the glass photo, documented to have been made on the 19th of April 1842. With the announcements in Carniolia in 1841 and 1843 Janez Puhar indisputably and eternally proved his pioneering work regarding glass photography. Attempts to get photos on glass were also made by others. The Frenchman Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor reported his invention on glass to the French Academy of Sciences in 1847, while Janez Puhar succeeded with the recognition in Paris no earlier than in 1952. Janez Puhar`s invention was born five years before Niepces and outshone him in time of exposure, naturally the French backed their compatriot. In the 19th century it was hard to win recognition when one came from a remote village. In January 1851 The Vienna Academy of Sciences acknowledged and published a report of the photography on glass invention by Puhar. He received the highest recognition in June 1852: The French Academy "Académie nationale agricole manufacturière et commerciale” declared Janez Puhar as the inventor of photography on glass and awarded him honorary membership. In the fifties he attended three world fairs: - 1851: At the »Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations« in London. Puhar was one of only 3 representatives of the Austrian Empire, he exhibited his glass photographs and received the bronze medal. - 1852: He was invited to New York to attend the world exhibition in 1853. - 1855: At the “Exposition Universelle des Produits de l'Agriculture, de l'Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris” Puhar was presented as the inventor of photography according to the new procedures.
The original photo process
The essence of the Puhar’s procedure is:
- genius idea using glass
- accessible materials
- vegetable rush candle
- hand-made camera
- previously unattainable short time of exposure (only 15 seconds), which allowed him to make portraits
- positive image
- reproduction possibility
Janez Puhar left us a script of his original procedure. Puhar used small ordinary glass plates. He first coated a piece of glass with a layer of light sensitive sulfur. The rising sulfuric steam covered the glass plate that he held over a flame. The plate was then exposed to iodine vapors. Afterwards he inserted the prepared glass plate in the back of the camera. After he set the motif he poured mercury into a metal container and placed it at the bottom of the camera. He then heated the mercury from the below. The prepared plate was exposed to light for 15 seconds. Mercury vapors coated the exposed places on the picture. Puhar strengthened his picture also with bromine steam. He fixed the picture by wrapping it with alcohol. Finally he preserved the photo with warmish and coated it with another glass plate.
The evident photographic heritage of Janez Puhar consists of five photographs, one copy of a lost photo and three photo-reproductions. All of them are very well preserved, still after more than 160 years. They are carefully kept in the National Museum in Ljubljana, in the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana and one is also in a private collection. There is a possibility that other Puhar pictures are scattered around elsewhere. Janez Puhar is unfortunately still quite unknown beyond our borders, as well as in his home country. Almost all his legacy has dissipated. Are there new discoveries to occur, encouraged by the Puhar’s year?
Other photo inventions
Janez Puhar also developed:
- photo projection on the wall by "laterna magica"
- transformation of photos
- photography on paper (dated on October 25h, 1853)
- platinum photography
- photography according to the Moser theory
- salt paper photography
Photos on glass
Known photos, kept in the National Museum in Ljubljana, Museum of Architecture and design and one in a private collection, are:
- self-portrait, reproduction of a lost photo original, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- self-portrait, original on glass, 10 x 12 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- portrait of a man, original on glass, 9,4 x 11,5 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- portrait of a woman, original on glass, 10,3 x 12,1 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- Andrej Vavken in Cerklje na Gorenjskem, original on glass, 6,7 x 8,4 cm, Muzej za arhitekturo in oblikovanje, Ljubljana
- portrait of the composer Andrej Vavken and the painter Ivan Franke, original on glass, 9,7 x 11,5 cm, private collection
- Bled island, colored photo reproduction of a graphic motif on paper, 6,5 x 5,1 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- Last supper, colored photo reproduction of a graphic motif on paper, 7,8 x 6 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
- Gregor Rihar in a boat in Bled, photo reproduction of a Puhar’s drawing on paper, 9,1 x 6,3 cm, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Unfortunately, most of Puhar's photos are lost. According to the descriptions we know for next ones:
- 2 photos send to the Scientists assembly in Ljubljana, 1849
- 4 photos, vicont Louis de Dax
- Photographs sent to Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna
- Photographs, which were used for presentation purposes on world exhibitions in London, New Yorku and Paris
- Portraits of relatives from the heritage of family Polec, which was destroyed during World War II
Janez Puhar wrote at least 15 poems in Slovene and 4 poems in German language. They all have popular character. Some of them were put to music by known composers.
Awards and recognition
- the Viena Academy of science recognition of his invention, 1851
- Diploma of the French Academy “Académie nationale agricole manufacturière et commerciale”, 1852
- Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, London, 1851, bronze medal
- Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, New York, 1853: he was invited by the New York company Englemann Brothers,
- L’exposition universelle de 1855, Paris, medal
Items named after Janez Puhar:
- Janez Puhar Award - given by Fotografska zveza Slovenije for exceptional achievements in the field of photography
- Puharotipija – Puhar’s photo procedure
- Puharjeva ulica – the street in Ljubljana
- Puharjeva ulica – the street in Kranj
- Puharjeva Praise – given by Fotografsko društvo Janez Puhar Kranj
- Puharjeva Medal – awarded by Fotografsko društvo Janez Puhar Kranj for the best portrait at the FIAP exhibitions
Considering his contribution to the Slovene national identity and the development of photographic science, Slovenia declared the year 2014 as Puhar˙s year. The honorary patronage of the jubilee was approved by Slovenia`s President Mr. Borut Pahor. In cooperation with many municipalities and institutions, it is a celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth with a yearlong program of events in Slovenia and abroad.
- Several standard histories of photography widely available during the past sixty years have mentioned the photographs on glass made by John Herschel in September 1839 (e.g., Gernsheim 1986, p. 16), sometimes including an illustration. What is by some definitions the very first successful photograph (i.e., an image produced by the action of light but reasonably light-fast and durable in its final form), a contact-exposed copy of an engraving, was made on glass by the bitumen process of Nicéphore Niépce in 1822 (Gernsheim 1986, p. 9). The later physautotype process, co-invented by Niépce and Louis Daguerre in the early 1830s, was also used to produce photographs on glass, possibly including one mentioned by John Herschel in a 9 May 1839 letter to Henry Fox Talbot in which he reports visiting Daguerre in Paris and being shown "... all his Pictures on Silver ... and also one on glass" (Herschel 1839). Like Puhar's process, these experimental pre-1840 glass processes were never commercialized.
- Gernsheim, Helmut. (1955). The History of Photography, p. 150.
- Gernsheim, Helmut. (1986). A Concise History of Photography, third revised edition. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 9, 16.
- Herschel, John. (1839). 9 May 1839 letter from John Herschel to Henry Fox Talbot describing specimens shown to him by Louis Daguerre. Accessed 4 September 2014.