The First Known Use of a Layer in Photographic Editing
Text By Hal Eland  © All rights reserved.

Date: 1860-61.
Photographer: Henry Peach Robinson, in England.
Subject: Illustrative photograph for Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott"

This story goes back to England in 1860 and the friendship between the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and the photographer Henry Peach Robinson.
 
Tennyson had written a poem called "The Lady of Shalott" about her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot of King Arthur's Court in Camelot.
 
Briefly, the Lady of Shalott lived alone in a castle "of four gray walls and four gray towers". There was a curse on her that she must not look outside, so as she sat daily weaving she watched the world outside through a mirror.
 
One day she saw the reflection of Sir Lancelot in her mirror and turned to look at him as he passed.. The curse struck her and her mirror shattered and she realized that she was about to die. She went down to the river and climbed into a boat to float down to Camelot for one last look at Sir Lancelot.
 
camping stove Tennyson asked his friend Robinson to give him a photograph of a girl in a boat, to illustrate his poem.
 
Robinson tried and failed. The slow film of the time, 1860, meant that his photos were blurred due to the movement of the boat on the river and the long exposures that were necessary.
 
He overcame this by pulling the boat up onto the bank, asking the girl to lie in the boat and he took his photo while she remained very still.
 
He then took another photo of the river and the trees along its banks but without the boat. The movement of the water did not distract from his photograph as the banks and the trees were sharp.
 
On his first print he cut out the image of the boat and the girl. In effect the first ever recorded editing layer. This he pasted onto his print of the river...... his background image.
 
Where we would now "Flatten" the two images into one, Robinson re-photographed the pasted image to obtain his final print that he gave to Alfred Tennyson.
 
Attached is the final photograph as it was published to illustrate the poem, "The Lady of Shalott" The first recorded use of a LAYER in photographic editing.


 
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