Thomas Milville Raven (1827-1896) was a pioneer photographer, as well as a priest.

Thomas Milville was the son of a clergyman, Thomas Raven, and his wife Susannah née Horrocks. Indeed, he was baptized by his own father at Holy Trinity church, Preston. In 1849, he married Eliza Whitaker at Padiham, Lancashire. He was educated at St David’s College Lampeter and ordained  deacon in 1850 and priest in 1852. His first curacy was at Montgomery; a succession of posts followed at Baxterley near Atherstone; Lockington; Waldingfield, and Scruton near Bedale. Eventually, he was appointed Vicar of St Gregory’s Crakehall, a village in the Yorkshire Dales, in 1867. He is also said to have built and maintained at his own cost the neighbouring church of St Mary Magdalene’s at Langthorne. 

Alongside this, he was a dedicated amateur photographer. He came from a creative family; one of his brothers was a painter and his sister had married the Pre-Raphaelite painter and stained-glass artist Henry Holiday. Raven joined the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1856 and immediately began exhibiting, mostly calotype and waxed-paper views of architecture and archaeological sites.  

Raven commented in the Journal of the Photographic Society, ‘It was after reading Dr Keith’s admirable paper on the waxed-paper process that I determined to adopt it. I was at that time living in a country parish in Yorkshire, and had to fight my way through photographic difficulties and troubles unaided and unadvised by any one.’ In William Henry Fox Talbot’s calotype process, paper with a coating of silver iodide was exposed in the camera and developed into a translucent negative image. The negative could then be used to make a large number of positive prints by simple contact printing. The wax paper process, introduced by Gustave Le Gray in 1851, modified this. The paper was impregnated with wax prior to sensitising rather than wax being coated on the finished negative.  

Raven’s writings describe the experience of a dedicated amateur photographer, carrying with him as well as his camera, an abundant supply of chemicals, an extra piece of ground glass for the focusing frame and one or two pieces of glass for the dark slides. Although his accounts are instructive regarding photography, they reveal little about himself. In particular, he wrote about his travels in France, with an eventual destination of the Pyrenees. He and Eliza arrived in Paul in December 1857. At this time, a daughter was with them. However, she is not mentioned in either the 1851 or the 1861 census, or in connection with a later visit to France. Raven submitted a significant number of waxed-paper views of French scenery and architecture to the 1859 exhibition of the Glasgow Photographic Society.   

After his return to Britain with its cooler climate, Raven went back to using calotype, finding it ‘unrivalled’ for ‘landscape portraiture. He also used the collodion process, a means of achieving light sensitive surfaces which remain in place on their supports. (As the photographic material was coated, sensitized, exposed and developed within about fifteen minutes, the technique required a portable darkroom!) Unusually, Raven produced a dry collodion view of Stirling Castle. His images for the 1861 Photographic Society exhibition in London included a mixture of views, portraits and studies of busts, using both waxed-paper and collodion techniques. He exhibited again at the 1865 International Exhibition in Dublin. The 1856 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland also contained seven calotypes, signed by a mysterious ‘E. Raven.’ The identity of the photographer is uncertain, possibly Thomas’ younger brother Eustace or his wife Eliza. 

Raven was elected a member of the Photographic Society in London on the same day as Julia Margaret Cameron, June 7 1864. He was also a member of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  He died in 1896, aged sixty-eight. 

Sources 

Obituary notices of ordinary fellows. (1895-6). Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 21, 175. Retrieved October 21 2020 from https://archive.org/details/proceedings2118951897roya/page/174/mode/2up?q=milville+raven 

Luminous-Lint. Photography: history, evolution and analysis. (2020). Approved biography for Thomas Milville Raven courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA). Retrieved October 22 2020 from http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Thomas_Milville__Raven/A/ 

Raven, T.M. (1858). Pau and the Pyrenees, with a slight sketch of a photographic tour made to them through the west of France. .Journal of the Photographic Society. 5(69-86), 104-108. Retrieved October 22 2020 from https://archive.rps.org/archive/volume-5/723845-volume-5-page-54?q=raven 

Early photography. (2020). Calotype and other early paper processes. Retrieved October 22 2020 from http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/gloss14.html#gloss_wax