During my adventures on Saturday I made a beeline for the Henry Fox Talbot show at the Science Museum in London. One of the great pioneers of photography, Fox Talbot is responsible for the invention of the photographic negative, undoubtably one of the great leaps forward in photographic practice. The invention of the negative mechanised photography and lead it down the path of being able to reproduce an image multiple times from the one same original.
In France in 1827, French photographic pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, after years of experimenting, achieves a photographic image on an unetched tin plate. This image known as ‘Point du vue du Gras’ becomes the worlds first photographic image and survives to this day although out of sight.
From these initial experiments came a whole host of photographs showing the world how it had never been captured before. What we see could be put down in detail not yet achieved by pencil or paint This was great but the images were not lasting for a long time, after a while they would fade and the process meant that only one image could be produced and no reproductions could be made of it (using methods of the time of course).
This lead Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot to conceive and idea. What if we could produce a photograph and then produce further copies of it, each one looking like the last and with great accuracy? This lead Fox Talbot, over many years of experimenting to create the calotype negative process which laid the foundations for how we know traditional photography today. A negative image would be produced using the camera, and that negative would then be used to produce multiple prints by exposing light through it on to photosensitive paper!
The exhibition contains a whole host of images by multiple photographers of the period, each one following in the footsteps of their predecessor. The two rooms contain digital recreations of images, these are okay but not as exciting as the contents of room three! We enter through automatic glass doors in to a ‘sealed’ room where light and temperature can be carefully monitored, it is here where we see the original calotype prints from negative made by Fox Talbot and his associates.
When we consider this against 21st Century photography it seems quite silly really. I can produce hundreds of copies of images within minutes and with little effort. Those same images can then be sent to the other side of the globe within seconds. If we take ourselves down to 19th Century thinking, a process completely unseen before. A process which opened the doors of possibility in to the use of images. In a chateau just south of Dijon in France, or in the out buildings of Laycock Abbey, Wiltshire, this amazing thing called photography was born!