John Wheeley Gutch was born in Bristol on Christmas eve. He initially trained as a surgeon in Bristol and practised as a physician in Florence, Swansea and London before quitting medicine in the 1840s to become a Queen's Messenger and editor of a new scientific annual. His wide range of interests encompassed botany, geology, entomology, meteorology and experimenting with photography, which began as early as 1841, just after Fox-Talbot had announced his discovery.
Gutch was particularly active in photography during the mid- to late-1850s, and was perhaps unique amongst early exponents of the medium in making comprehensive records of a variety of locations in Britain, from the South West to Cumberland, Scotland and Wales. He was interested mainly in using photography as a means for finding both 'health and happiness', and 'the Picturesque', given that there was much change during that period of Industrialisation, and for his own personal creativity in undertaking the craft of perserving images.
He bravely attempted to photograph every church in Bristol and Gloucestershire in 1858-59. The landscape and people of Cornwall greatly inspired Gutch, providing him with some of his best visual material. During a three-month period in 1858, he made an extensive journey through the coastal landscapes of this wild and rugged terrain, managing to make over one hundred photographs of coasts, cliffs and rock formations, and protraits.
The West of Cornwall in particular appealed to him, with its ancient tombs and history, and the botany thriving all around (particularly lichens, heathers and grasses). He found Land's End an inspiration, and the piles of stones 'stand out in full majesty', but he also focused on studies of Cornish fishermen and their families and groups of young miners, 'arguably his finest', according to Summers. A printed list, published by Penzance bookseller Rowe in 1859, recorded these Cornish photographs.
Hardie (2009) Artists in Newlyn & West Cornwall: See C Thomas essay pp17-20 illus
Summer (2010) In Search of the Picturesque: The English Photographs of JWG Gutch;
C Thomas (1988) Views and Likenesses