|Image courtesy City of Edinburgh Council – Libraries|
The photograph is a Talbotype -- or more properly, a salted-paper positive print made from a Talbotype paper negative. Developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, this process postdated that of Daguerre, but had the advantage of not conflicting with Daguerre's patents (contrary to Daguerre's claim of having donated his invention to France and the world in exchange for a pension, he enforced his patent in Britain and the United States). Thus, while in all of England only Antoine Claudet and Richard Beard were licensed to take photographs, in Scotland, a number of photographers took up Talbot's process with his informal knowledge and consent. Among the pioneers there was Dr. John Adamson, whom we know took at least one photograph of Harry Goodsir, and his brother Robert Adamson, who with David Ocatvius Hill formed the firm of Hill and Adamson.
The Talbotype process had one further advantage -- unlike Daguerre's, which produced a single opaque image (the metal plate from the camera itself), Talbotypes were negatives on paper, which could produce one -- or more than one -- positive print. Sensitized paper was placed atop the negative, and the resulting contact print or prints were positives. The image of Irving is one of these, and shows a high degree of skill and professionalism; Irving is posed in from of some buildings (or possibly a backdrop), but the depth of field is such that he is in sharp focus, with the background blurred. He is wearing civilian dress, with broad sideburns (a popular style choice on the Franklin Expedition, being also favored by Goodsir, Gore, and Fairholme). There is, according to the curators, no further information about the image in their files, but it's reasonable to assume that Irving had his portrait made not long prior to departing for London and thence to the Arctic. There's also good reason to attribute the image to Hill and Adamson; the style is quite like theirs, and few other photographers active at this time would have been able to make such a fine portrait.
It's remarkable to note that Franklin's expedition may not have been the first to be photographed, nor the first to have taken photographic apparatus to the Frozen Regions -- Talbot himself corresponded briefly with one of the officers of James Clark Ross's Antarctic expedition, who sought training and supplies to try his process there -- alas, we don't know whether these plans were ever followed through.