Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray:

Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray: 1820-1884. Has been called “the most important French photographer of the nineteenth century” because of his technical innovations in the still new medium of photography, his role as the teacher of other noted photographers, and the extraordinary imagination he brought to picture making”.

Combination Printing: Creating seascapes by using one negative for water, and one for the sky… at a time when when it was impossible to have the same together due to the widely differing luminosity levels.

The Great Wave, the most dramatic of his seascapes, combines Le Gray’s technical mastery with expressive grandeur. He took the view on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier. At the horizon, the clouds are cut off where they meet the sea. This indicates the join between two separate negatives. The combination of two negatives allowed Le Gray to achieve tonal balance between sea and sky on the final print. It gives a more truthful sense of how the eye, rather than the camera, perceives nature.


One reviewer for the Journal of the Photographic Society (21 February 1857) wrote:

‘We stop with astonishment before M. Le Gray’s “Sea and Sky”, the most successful seizure of water and cloud yet attempted. The effect is the simplest conceivable. There is a plain, unbroken prairie of open sea, lined and rippled with myriad smiling trails of minute undulations, dark and sombrous and profoundly calm, over the dead below – smooth as a tombstone.’