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William Henry Fox Talbot
William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) was born in Dorset, England in 1800 and, as expected of a person of his social class, gained an excellent education at Harrow and Cambridge. A talented mathematician, classicist, linguist, scientist and botanist, his invention of the 'calotype' arose out of his unsuccessful attempts to produce good pencil sketches using the popular artists' aids of the period - the camera obscura and the camera lucida. In 1834, at his ancestral home of Lacock Abbey he began a series of systematic photographic experiments in an attempt to solve the technical problems that had been encountered by previous scientists who had experimented with creating an accurate, reflected image that could be 'fixed' when created. He achieved initial success by using a combination of common salt and silver nitrate soaked into paper, allowing it to become sufficiently light-sensitive to capture an image.In 1839, French photographer Louis Daguerre's new invention, the daguerrotype, was presented to the French Academy of Arts and Sciences and quickly established itself as the leading form of photography.In reaction, Talbot presented his own experiments of 'photogenic drawings' with Michael Faraday at the Royal Institute in the same month. However, it was to be Talbot's dual process of creating a sharp and stable negative image from which numerous positive salt prints could be made that would form the basis of negative-positive photography, which would dominate the medium for the next century. Unlike the daguerrotype, the process developed by Talbot meant that multiple copies could be reproduced, and, most importantly, images could be reproduced for book illustration.Talbot himself produced the first commercial photographically illustrated book, “The Pencil of Nature”, which was produced in six parts between 1844 and 1846. It contained 24 calotypes and an accompanying text that outlined Talbot's conception and invention of photography, and was produced by the printing establishment he set up in Reading in 1844. He also produced a second book, “Sun Pictures in Scotland” in 1845, which was less well-received. The majority of Talbot's pictures were taken between 1841 and 1846, and in this short period, he was able to establish many of the medium's most familiar genres.His photographs include architectural studies of English cities and villages, portraits of family and friends (as staged groups or more naturally posed), botanic studies of natural objects like insect wings and leaves, and still lifes taken in Lacock Abbey, such as pictures of sculptural busts arranged on tables.Talbot applied photography originally to the needs of scientific illustration and to the reproduction of engravings and paintings, but many of his pictures also show the influence of prevailing romantic and picturesque taste, as well as a more modern aesthetic specific to photography. Dedicated to the advancement of his medium, Talbot continued to develop his techniques until the end of his life (he died in 1877 at Lacock Abbey), and forming the basis for the medium's future. This book includes an essay by Geoffrey Batchen, a specialist on the emergence of photography in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He assesses Fox Talbot's role, not just as a scientist, but also as a photographer, and makes it clear how important he was to the advancement of the medium.This accessible text is accompanied by extended captions for each of the individual images, which clearly discuss the process of making each image and ascertains its importance within Fox Talbot's body of work.This scholarly text alongside the selection of 55 images from the range of Fox Talbot's career, and from throughout the genres of his work, makes this an excellent introduction for historians, photography enthusiasts and the many students who study the work of this pioneer of photography. His photographs are fascinating, often beautiful images that are still engaging today.
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