History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary











 

 



Chapter 1

 

 

WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT (collection)
HIPPOLYTE BAYARD
Louis JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE
(collection)

 

 



THE EARLY YEARS:



TECHNOLOGY, VISION, USERS



1839-1875



 


The Calotype

For much of its existence, photography has been understood by most to be a process resulting in a negative image that can be replicated almost endlessly to produce positives in which tonal and spatial values are in normal relationship. Using the same matrix, the picture can be made larger and, because of the light weight of the support (paper, fabric, plastic), it can be inserted into books and albums, attached to documents, and sent through the mails, as well as framed and hung on the wall. The photograph's physical and utilitarian advantages over the daguerreotype are so obvious that it may seem incredible that when first announced the negative-positive process took a most definite second place in the public mind.

The reasons are complex, involving timing, technique of production, aesthetic standards, and social factors. Photogenic drawing, as Talbot first called the paper image, was made public by the inventor in London in February, 1839, only after the news of Daguerre's discovery had been relayed from across the Channel. For most people, the potential value of replication may have seemed too abstract an idea at the time, while the actual process of turning negative into positive was perceived as rather complicated. Most important, however, was the fact that—even to Talbofs most ardent supporters—the fuzziness of his earliest results was demonstrably less pleasing than the finely detailed daguerreotype image. Furthermore, the French invention, sponsored by scientist-politicians, had received official government sanction while Talbot had to steer his discovery himself through the quicksands of the British scientific and patenting establishments, at the same time pursuing improvements and attempting to realize a commercial return.
 

 

 

 

20. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT. Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, 1835. Photogenic drawing.
Fox Talbot Collection, Science Museum, London.

 

A patrician background and university training had enabled Talbot to become involved with the most advanced thinking of his time. This resourceful scientist was drawn more to astronomy, mathematics, and optics than to chemistry (which in any case was barely a discipline at the time), and his interests also embraced linguistics and literature. For a man of science he was a somewhat romantic and antisocial figure who traveled incessantly; it was while sketching on a honeymoon trip to Italy in 1833 (pi. no. 18) that he conceived the notion of making permanent the image visible on the translucent ground-glass surface of the camera obscura. Taking up this idea on his return to England, Talbot managed first to expose and thereby transfer leaf forms directly onto chemically sensitized paper (pi. 0. 21). Then, in the summer of 1835, with treated paper nserted in small specially constructed cameras, he succeeded in producing a number of negatives of his ancestral tome, Lacock Abbey, including a tiny postage-stamp-size Lmage of a latticed window (pi. no. 20) with diamond panes initially distinct enough to count.


21. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT. Botanical Specimen, 1839. Photogenic drawing. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.

In common with Daguerre, Talbot first used a solution of ordinary table salt to stop the continuing action of light on the silver deposits, but it was not until both inventors had switched to hyposulphite of soda (hypo, as it is still called even though its scientific name is now sodium thiosulphate) that the unexposed silver salts were completely removed and the image satisfactorily stabilized. This characteristic of hypo had been discovered in 1819 by lohn Herschel (later knighted), a prominent astronomer, physical scientist, and friend of Talbot, who informed both inventors of this fact. Herschel's contributions to the chemistry of photography reveal both scientific brilliance and distinterested generosity. Returning in 1838 after several years as an independent researcher in South Africa where he had himself made drawings with optical devices (pi. no. 19), Herschel learned of the experiments in England and France to produce images by the action of light. He proceeded to conduct his own intensive researches to discover the effectiveness of different silver halides and other chemicals, among them ferric salts from which cyanotypes, or blueprints, are made. Herschel's suggestions with regard to terminology were especially effective in that he convinced Talbot to consider, instead of photogenic drawing, the broader term photography—light writing—a term believed to have been first used by both the Brazilian Hercules Florence and the German astronomer Johann H. von Maedler. Herschel also coined the terms negative and positive to refer to the inverse and reverted images that were basic to the system. Had he wished, he probably could have arrived at a patent-able process at the same time as Talbot, but his interests lay elsewhere. His intellectual openness has been contrasted with Talbot's more secretive attitudes, but the two were mutual admirers, with Herschel refreshingly liberal about sharing the experimental results of his genius.

18. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT Melzi, October 5, 1833.
Camera lucida sketch on paper.
Fox Talbot Collection Science Museum, London.

19. JOHN HERSCHEL. Cape Town and Table Bay from Just Above Platte Klip Gorge,
Table Mountain, February 7,1838. Camera Iucida sketch on paper.
Special Collections, South African Library, Capetown.

The report in January, 1839, of Daguerre's discovery forced Talbot to make public his process even though he had done little work on it since 1837. His initial announcements, made to the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, and the French Academy of Sciences at the end of January and in February were received with interest and evoked a small flurry of excitement among a few individuals in the scientific community and in Talbot's circle of family and friends. However, in comparison with the verisimilitude of the finely detailed daguerreotype, this image, incorporating the texture intrinsic to its paper support, was too broad and indistinct to have wide appeal despite Talbot's description of the effect as "Rembrandtish."

Another disadvantage at first was the length of time required to make an exposure. Talbot had not then discovered the possibility of latent development, a procedure Daguerre had stumbled on, whereby the image, invisible on the exposed plate or paper, was made to appear by treatment with a chemical solution (developer). When he did discover this in the fall of 1840, his exposure time was decreased from about half an hour to as little as 30 seconds on a very bright day, making possible portraiture and a much broader selection of subjects and atmospheric effects, as seen in one of the inventor's early views of London (pi. no. 22).

In 1841 Talbot took out the first of his patents," using the word calotype to describe the resulting image, which he also referred to as a Talbotype. This action initiated a ten-year period during which English scientific and artistic endeavor in photography became entangled in problems of commercial exploitation. Both during his lifetime and long afterward, Talbot was accused of obstructing the development of photography because of his intransigence with regard to the four patents he held on the calotyping process. Critics have suggested that he regarded them as covering all advances in photographic technology occur-ring between 1841 and 1851 and that he included as his own the contributions of others, in particular Herschel's suggestion of hyposulphite of soda as a fixer. However, Talbot's biographer, H. J. P. Arnold, notes that a close reading of the language indicates that the patents protected methods of utilizing substances rather than the chemical agents themselves.

Talbot himself was caught up in a controversy over the moral and practical effects of patenting inventions, a dilemma that occupied the British from mid-century on. While some individuals maintained that patent fees were too high and rules too lax for protection, others argued that patents were indefensible because inventions "depended less on any individual than on progress in society." Talbot may have agreed, but he patented his processes because, like countless others in Britain, France, and the United States at the time, he considered that those who had invested considerable effort should reap the material rewards of their genius and industry. That he did not benefit financially was because he was an indifferent businessman with a more compelling interest in intellectual matters—an attitude bolstered by the fact that he could count on income from his landed estate. Neither the surge of amateurs photographing in calotype for their own plea-sure nor the utilization of the process for commercial portraiture materialized. Among the well-to-do who did take up calotyping were Talbot's wife Constance, his Welsh relatives Emma and John Dillwyn Llewelyn, and two friends, the Reverends Calvert Richard Jones and George W. Bridges, both of whom conceived the idea of making a calotype record of their travels abroad (see Chapter 3).

Paper photography occasioned a more significant response in Scotland where no licensing arrangements were necessary. With the help of Sir David Brewster, an eminent scientist who corresponded frequently with Talbot, Robert Adamson, a young Scottish chemist, was able to perfect the calotype technique and open a studio in Edinburgh in 1841. Two years later, he and painter-lithographer David Octavius Hill began to produce calotypes; these images, mainly portraits (see Chapter 2), still are considered among the most expressive works in the medium.

Talbot, though disinclined to pursue the commercial exploitation of his discovery actively, was keenly concerned with the potential uses of the medium. In setting up a publishing establishment at Reading under the super-vision of Nicolaas Henneman, an assistant he personally had trained, Talbot promoted the use of the photographic print itself in book and magazine illustration. The Pencil of Suture, issued serially between 1844 and 1846 with text and pictorial material supplied by Talbot, was the first publication to explain and illustrate the scientific and practical applications of photography. One of the plates, The Open Door (pi. no. 23) was singled out in the British press for its exceptional tonal range and textural fidelity, its "microscopic execution that sets at nought the work of human hands."

Talbot regarded photography as important primarily for its role in supplying visual evidence of facts, but this "soliloquy of the broom," as Talbot's mother called The Open Door, reveals a telling interest in the artistic treatment of the mundane. Along with the theme, the careful attention to the way light and shadow imbue a humble scene with picturesque dimension suggests the inventor's familiarity with examples of Dutch genre painting of the 17th century—works that enjoyed considerable esteem in Victorian England and, in fact, were specifically mentioned in the Pencil of Nature. Several other calotype images in the same style bear witness to Talbot's conviction that photography might offer an outlet for artistic expression to those without the talent to draw or paint.

Other publications by Talbot included Sun Pictures of Scotland, for which he made 23 photographs in 1844, and Annals of Artists in Spain, the first book to utilize the photograph for reproducing works of art. However, he disposed of the Reading firm in 1848 because of managerial and technical problems in running a large-scale photographic printing enterprise, not the least of which was the fact that calotypes were subject to fading. This instability was to trouble photographers who worked with paper prints throughout the next 25 years.

In France, where the daguerreotype held the general populace enthralled, artists were greatly interested in the calotype. In their view, the paper process offered a greater range of choices within which one might fashion an affective image. In addition to view, pose, and lighting—the sole aesthetic decisions for the daguerreotypist—the calotypist could exercise interpretive judgment in the production of subsequent prints from the same negative. Aesthetic decisions concerning tonality and coloration could be made by adjustments in the toning and sensitizing baths and by the choice of paper itself, while retouching on the negative (or print) could alter forms. In this respect, the paper process called to mind traditional procedures in etching and engraving, lending the calotype greater esteem among those interested in photography as a creative pursuit.

22. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT. The Nelson Column, Trafalgar Square, London, under Construction, c. 1843.
Salted paper print from a calotype negative. Fox Talbot Collection, Science Museum, London.

23. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT. The Open Door, 1843. Salted paper print from a calotype negative.
(Plate VI, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46.) Fox Talbot Collection, Science Museum, London.


Other Developments in Paper Photography

Actually, a paper process had been discovered independently in France. Early in 1839, Hippolyte Bayard, a civil servant in the Ministry of Finance, had made and exhibited both photogenic drawings and direct positive paper images exposed in a camera (see A Short Technical History, Parti), among them a view of a rural enclave in Paris in the process of being urbanized (pi. no. 24). These works were produced soon after the first reports of Talbot's process reached France but before the official announcement in August of Daguerre's process. However, political pressure, especially from Arago, who had committed himself to the promotion of the daguerreotype, kept the discover)' from the public. Bayard expressed his indignation at this shabby treatment by the French establishment by creating an image of himself as a suicide victim (pi. no. 25); nevertheless, he soon went on to become a prominent member of the photographic community in Paris.

Aware of Bayard's discoveries and concerned that this other paper process might achieve precedence on the Continent, Talbot sought to promote the calotype in France. Although he signed a contract for its promotion with Joseph Hugues Maret (known as the Marquis de Bassano), and traveled to Paris in 1843 to demonstrate the procedure, his associates in France turned out to be incompetent and the project a fiasco. Loath to purchase franchises directly from Talbot in England, French artists and photographers preferred to wait until 1847 when Louis Desire Bianquart-Evrard, a photographer in Lille who was to become an influential figure in book publication, announced a modified paper process based on Talbot's discoveries. One of the most ardent champions of paper photography in France was the painter Gustave Le Gray, who in 1851 described a method of waxing the negative before exposure to improve definition and tonal sensitivity. The calotype, employed by Le Gray and other French photographers in an 1851 project to document historic monuments (see Chapter 3), enjoyed spirited acclaim by French critics before it was made obsolete by the new collodion technology discussed below.

Early in 1839, two Munich scientists, Carl August von Steinheil and Franz von Kobell, had experimented with paper negatives as a result of a report on Talbot's discoveries given at the Bavarian Royal Academy of Sciences, but even though successful results were exhibited in July, on hearing of the wonderful detail possible with the daguerreotype Von Steinheil switched to metal plates. In the United States as in England, the soft forms of the calotype appealed mainly to a small group of intellectual lights (many of whom lived in Boston), but on the whole reaction to paper photography was cool. Following an unproductive business arrangement with Edward Anthony, a prominent figure in the photographic supply business in New York, Talbot sold the patent rights to the Langenheims who, in turn, expected to sell licenses for the process throughout the United States. The calotypes made by the Langenheims were admired in the press, but the firm soon was forced into bankruptcy as the American public continued its allegiance to the daguerreotype.

24. HIPPOLYTE BAYARD. Excavation for rue Tholoze.
Paper negative. Societe Francaise de Photographie, Paris.

25. HIPPOLYTE BAYARD. Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840. Direct paper positive.
Societe Francaise de Photographie, Paris.


Introduction of the Glass Plate and Collodion

Lack of definition and fading were considered the two most pressing problems in paper photography, especially by portraitists and publishers with commercial interests. To improve sharpness, efforts to replace the grainy paper negative with glass—a support that both Niepce and Herschel had already used—gained ground. The first practicable process, using albumen, or egg white, as a binder for the silver salts, was published in France in 1847, while in the United States Whipple and the Langenheims also had succeeded in making finely detailed glass negatives with these substances, from which they made prints called crystalotypes and hyalotypes, respectively. Glass also provided a suitable material for experimentation undertaken by the Langenheims to produce stereographic images and positive slides for projection. But while albumen on glass resulted in negatives without grain, the procedures were complicated and the exposure time was longer than that required for the daguerreotype.

An effective alternative materialized in 1850 when Frederick Scott Archer, an English engraver turned sculptor, published a method of sensitizing a newly discovered colorless and grainless substance, collodion, to be used on a glass support (see A Short Technical History, Parti). Because exposure time decreased dramatically when the plate was used in a moist state, the process became known as die wet plate or wet collodion method. Today one can scarcely imagine the awkwardness of a procedure that required the user to carry a portable darkroom about in order to sensi-tize each plate before using it and to develop it immediately afterward. Still, the crisp definition and strong contrast afforded by sensitized collodion on glass proved to be just what many in the photographic profession had hoped for in a duplicatable process. Its discovery initiated an era of expanded activity in professional portraiture, in the publication of views, in amateur photographic activity around the globe, and led to numerous collateral photo-graphic enterprises. The introduction of collodion also signaled the end of Talbot's exasperating efforts to litigate his patent rights against those who had taken up calotyping for commerce without purchasing a franchise. The gift of the collodion process to the public by Archer (who was to die impoverished in 1857) was in noticeable contrast to Talbot's attempts to cover all his inventions. When he claimed in 1854 that collodion, too, was protected by his 1843 calotype patent, the outrage expressed in the press made a favorable decision on his pending infringement cases impossible. Talbot gave up his photography patents in 1855, but by then the calotype had faded from sight, in many cases quite literally.


Developments in the Paper Print

Besides the soft definition, the other problem that plagued calotypists involved the quality of the print. Un-even and blotchy tonalities and, of greater concern, the tendency for rich-looking prints to fade and discolor were nightmares, especially for those in commercial enterprises. In addition, satisfactory salt prints—positives produced by exposing sensitized paper in contact with a negative until the image appeared—were thought to look lifeless by a public enticed by superior contrast and clarity. Because the problems were perceived as intrinsic to paper manufacture, an emulsion consisting of albumen and light sensitive silver salts was proposed as a surface coating to keep the image from penetrating into the paper structure itself.

Coming into use at about the same time as the collodion negative, the albumen print rapidly became part of a new photographic technology. Lasting some 30 years, it promoted a style that featured sharp definition, glossy surface, and strong contrasts. In response to this prefer-ence, Blanquart-Evrard's Imprimerie Photographique (Photographic Printing Works) at Lille, the first successful photographic printing plant to employ a substantial labor force of men and women, began to process prints for the dozen different publications issued during the n years of its existence. Similar firms soon appeared in Alsace, Ger-many, England, and Italy, as photographically illustrated books and portfolios became popular.

However, despite the optimistic scenario for the future of the albumen print, problems with stability continued to haunt photographers, making large-scale production a de-manding undertaking. At times the unappealing yellow-brown tonality of faded albumen prints was likened to that of stale cheese. Again, sizings were blamed, and it was determined that impurities in the water used in paper man-ufacture also left a residue that caused the discoloration; only two mills in northeastern France were thought capable of producing paper free from such mineral contamination. Stock from these mills was shipped to nearby Dresden to be albumenized, establishing this German city as the main production center for photographic paper throughout the collodion era.

Other causes of fading, among them imperfect washing, inadequate fixing with hypo baths, interaction with mounting adhesives and air pollution, were confirmed by individuals and by committees set up to study the situation by the two most prominent photographic organizations of the era—the Photographic Society of London and the Societe Frangaise de Photographic. A two-part prize offered in 1856 by an eminent French archeologist, Honore d'Albert, Due de Luynes, testified to the fact that the solution would be found in two spheres of activity related to photography. In offering a larger sum for photomechanical procedures and a smaller one for the discovery of a truly permanent method of chemical printing, De Luynes and other French industrialists recognized the importance of mechanical over hand methods for reproducing photographs. Alphonse Louis Poitevin, a noted French chemist who was recipient of both parts of the prize, worked out a photolithographic process called the collotype (see A Short Technical History, Part II) and a non-silver procedure for printing collodion negatives. Based on researches undertaken in 1839 by the Scottish scientist Mungo Ponton that established the light-sensitivity of potassium bichromate, this process, called carbon printing, used a mixture of bichromated gelatin and powdered carbon instead of silver salts to effect a positive image.

During the 1860s, the results obtained by printing with carbon were greatly admired for their deep, rich tonalities as well as their resistance to fading. The technique was actively promoted in Europe, especially after Joseph Wilson Swan, the holder of numerous British patents in the photochemical field (and the inventor of the incandescent light bulb), simplified manipulation by manufacturing carbon tissues in various grades and tonalities. Called Autotype in England, the Swan carbon process was franchised to the Annan brothers in Scotland, Hanfstaengl in Germany, and Braun in France, rendering these large-scale photographic publishing firms more productive than formerly. However, despite a campaign to promote the carbon method by a leading American publication, The Philadelphia Photographer, no great interest developed in the United States, per-haps because efforts already were underway to find a method of printing photographs on mechanical presses through the creation of a metal matrix. Another process that utilized similar chemical substances—the Woodbury-type, named after its English creator Walter Woodbury— began to supplant carbon production printing in the early 1870s. It, too, produced a richly pigmented permanent image, but because it incorporated elements of mechanical printing technology it was more productive. Despite these improvements in positive printing materials, albumen paper continued in use for portraits and scenic views until the 1880s when significant new developments in both negative and printing materials made it obsolete. The pigmented carbon process was used less frequently in commercial photographic printing after the 1880s; however, it then became a means of individualized artistic expression for pictorialist photographers.


The Stereograph and Stereoscope

One final element in this inaugural period of photography helped assure the medium's incredible popularity. This was the invention of the stereograph and stereoscope —an image and a device that fused photographic technology with entertainment. Stereographs—two almost identical images of the same scene mounted side by side on a stiff support and viewed through a binocular device to create an illusion of depth—held Iate-i9th-century viewers in thrall. Early examples, which had used daguerreotypes to create this effect, were not entirely successful because reflections from the metal surfaces interfered with the illusion; but after collodion/albumen preempted other technologies, stereograph views became more convincing and immensely salable. Produced in large editions by steam-driven machinery and mounted on cards using assembly-line methods, they reached a substantial clientele, especially in the United States, through mail-order and door-to-door sales. Stereograph publishers offered an unparalleled selection of pictorial material; besides the landscapes, views of monuments, and scenes of contemporary events that often were available in regular format photographs also, there were educational images of occupations and work situations around the globe, reproductions of works of art, especially sculpture, and illustrations of popular songs and anecdotes—all of which provided middle-class viewers with unprecedented materials for entertainment.


26. Holmes-Bates Stereoscope with stereograph. Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside.

Histories of the medium have acknowledged this popular appeal, but the stereograph should be seen as more than a faddish toy. After Queen Victoria had expressed her approval at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, where stereographs were on public display for the first time, the purchase, exchange, and viewing of stereographs became a veritable mania. It was promoted in the United States as a significant educational tool by Oliver Wendell Holmes in two long articles in the Atlantic Monthly, in 1859 and 1862. Besides envisioning "a comprehensive and systematic library . . . where all ... can find the special forms they desire to see as artists ... as scholars,... as mechanics or in any other capacity," Holmes suggested that in the future the image would become more important than the object itself and would in fact make the object disposable. He also designed an inexpensive basic viewer (pi. no. 26) to enable ordinary people of little means to enjoy these educational benefits. In the latter part of the 19th century, stereography filled the same role as television does in the 20th, providing entertainment, education, propaganda, spiritual uplift, and aesthetic sustenance. Like television, it was a spectator activity, nourishing passive familiarity rather than informed understanding. Long viewed as a pleasant household pas-time, its effect on attitudes and outlook in the 19th century only recently has become the subject of serious study.

Looking back at the evolution of the medium during the first half of the 19th century, it is obvious that photography's time had come. Industrialization and the spread of education mandated a need for greater amounts of comprehensible pictorial material encompassing a broader of subjects—a necessity to which only the camera image was able to respond. Besides the figures mentioned in this chapter, other all-but-forgotten individuals were attempting to produce images by the means of light. And as soon as the glimmers of success were hinted at in London and Paris, people in outlying areas of Europe and the Americas began to embrace the new technology, hoping to expand its possibilities and, in the process, to make or improve their own fortunes.

Within 25 years of Niepce's first successful image, enough of the major technical difficulties had been worked out to insure that both daguerreotype and photograph could be exploited commercially. This activity, which centered on two areas—portraiture and the publication of scenic views—created a photographic profession with its own organizations and publications. Amateurs employed the medium for documentation and for personal expression, while graphic artists came to rely on photography as an indispensable tool for providing a record of appearances and, eventually, for suggesting different ways of viewing actuality. As will become apparent in the chapters that follow, the traditional divisions separating amateur from professional, art from commerce, document from personal expression were indistinct from the earliest days of the medium, and any boundaries that did exist became even more indefinite as camera images increased their authority and scope.


Profile:
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre   (see collection)

Nothing in Daguerre's early career as a successful scenic designer hinted that eventually he would become trans-fixed by the problems of producing permanent images by using light. He was born in 1787 into zpetit bourgeois family in Cormeilles-en-Parisis; when his natural artistic gifts became apparent he was apprenticed to a local architect. Paris beckoned in 1804, the year of Napoleon's coronation, so Daguerre served another apprenticeship in the studio of the stage designer Ignace Eugene Marie Degotti. His intuitive sensitivity to decorative effect enabled him to rise quickly, and in 1807 he became an assistant to Pierre Prevost, who was renowned for his realistically painted panoramas. During the nine years that Daguerre worked for Prevost, he occasionally submitted oils to the Paris Salon and made sketches and topographical views for the 20-volume Voyages pittoresques et romantiques en I'ancienne France (Picturesque and Romantic Travels in Old France), a work to which the painters Gericault, Ingres, and Vernet also contributed.

In 1816, Daguerre's exceptional skill and imagination were recognized by his appointment as stage designer to one of the best-known small theaters in Paris; three years later he also was designer for the Opera.. The audience for these entertainments was drawn from the new urban middle class, whose taste ran to verisimilitude in execution and romanticism in content. When, in 1821, Daguerre under-took to promote a new entertainment, The Diorama, he was convinced that the public would pay for illusionistic deception on a grand scale. The Diorama, which opened in July, 1822, with his own deceptively real-looking representation of 'The Valley of the Sarnen" (and one of "The Interior of Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral," painted by his partner Charles Marie Bouton) achieved its striking effects by the manipulation of light that transformed the scene from a serene day to one of tempestuous storminess, underscoring the desolation of the painted landscape. De-spite a temporary setback during the political troubles of 1830, The Diorama continued to offer romantic subjects until 1839, when it was entirely destroyed by fire.

To achieve the perspective effects on the large scrims, and on the easel paintings that he sometimes painted of the same subjects, Daguerre used the conventional tool of his trade—the camera obscura. At what point he began to consider how to make the view on the translucent glass surface permanent is not known, but in 1824 he started to frequent the shop of the Chevalier brothers, well-known Parisian makers of optical instruments. The result was an association with Niepce, through the Chevaliers, that led first to an agreement to perfect Niepce's process and finally to the daguerreotype.

After the French government had acquired the process, Daguerre occasionally demonstrated its methods and entered into arrangements to supply cameras and manuals of instruction, but he was considerably less active than others in perfecting his discovery. He preferred creating scenic effects on his estate in Bry-sur-Marne and in the local church where he painted a large trompe l'oeil perspective scene behind the altar. Although at Bry he made a small number of daguerreotypes of family and scenery, no further discoveries issued from his workshop nor did he develop artistically between 1839 and his death in 1851.

On the whole, Daguerre's output in the new medium reveals the influence of his artistic training and experience as the creator of picturesque yet convincing-looking scenes. His earliest surviving metal-plate image, an 1837 still life of plaster casts (pi. no. 27), discloses a subject dear to Romantic artists, one to which he returned on a number of occasions. These works, and views made in Paris and Bry, demonstrate sensitivity to tonal balance, feeling for textural contrast, and a knowledge of compositional devices such as diagonal framing elements to lead the eye into the picture, but from Daguerre's complete output—some three dozen plates according to Helmut and Alison Gernsheim—it is difficult to credit him with exceptional perception regarding the stylistic or thematic possibilities of the new pictorial medium.

27. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. Still Life, 1837.
Daguerreotype. Societe Franc.aise de Photographic, Paris.
 


Profile:
William Henry Fox Talbot   (see collection)
 

As an heir of the Enlightenment, Talbot was concerned with practical application as well as with scientific theory, with combining intellectual interests and commercial endeavor. A patrician background, close and supportive family relationships, and the ownership of a lucrative estate, Lacock Abbey, made it possible for him to pursue his multifarious interests to successful conclusions. Besides inventing the first duplicatable image system generated by light, be envisaged the many uses to which photography has since been put, prophesying that "an alliance of science with art will prove conducive to the improvement of both."

Born in 1800, shortly after the death of his father, Talbot was educated at Harrow and Cambridge and became learned in several fields of science. Despite the paltriness of scientific instruction in English universities of the time, he received satisfactory grounding in mathematics and Optics, two areas that remained fundamental to his inter-throughout his lifetime. Talbot augmented his formal training by closely following the work of British and foreign scientists, including Brewster, Herschel, Arago, Joseph von Fraunhofer, and Augustin Jean Fresnel, and during the 1830s and '40s he traveled abroad almost yearly on scholarly pursuits.

In 1839, events forced Talbot's hand with reference to die researches in photography that he had commenced in 1834—efforts to make images appear on light-sensitive materials—which he then had put aside to continue studies in optics and spectrology. In order to establish the priority of his discovery, Talbot exhibited at the Royal Society the photogenic drawings he had made in 1835 both by direct contact and in the camera, although he apparendy had not considered them especially significant prior to the French announcement. His pictures' unflattering comparison with the daguerreotype's greater detail and shorter exposure time, coupled with the realization that his system pos¬sessed greater potential, caused Talbot to resume experimentation and resulted shortly in his perfection of the negative/positive process that he called calotype (a name derived from the Greek kolas: beautiful), which he patented in 1841. Unlike Daguerre, Talbot continued to improve the discovery, to envision its possibilities, and to devise practical methods of reproducing photographic images by photomechanical means, at the same time producing some 600 photographs, among them genre subjects, landscapes, urban views, and portraits.

In the 1850s, following unsuccessful legal battles to secure his patent rights, he turned again to studies in theoretical mathematics and etymology, and to a new interest, Assyriology, contributing substantially to the decipherment of Assyrian cuneiform. After his death in 1877, the achievements of this fine, if somewhat unfocused scholar were obscured for a long period despite the fact that he had written seven books and more than 50 papers on a variety of scientific topics, held 12 significant patents, and made at least eight comprehensive translations from Assyrian literature, besides discovering the system of photographic image-making that continues in use today.


WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT

(b Melbury, Dorset, 11 Feb 1800; d Lacock Abbey, Wilts, 17 Sept 1877).

English photographer, inventor and scientist. He was educated at Harrow School and the University of Cambridge and was an outstanding scholar and a formidable mathematician. His scientific interest in nature and natural phenomena, including botany and horticulture, was complemented by studies of Assyriology, etymology and the Classics. Talbot published well over 50 scientific papers and took out 12 English patents; he became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society at the age of 22 and a Fellow of the Royal Society when he was only 31. Although a gentleman, he was neither a great landowner nor exceptionally rich by the standards of the day. He took over the ancestral home, Lacock Abbey, Wilts, in 1826 and married Constance Mundy in 1832; they had three daughters and a son. Talbot briefly became MP for Chippenham, but he did not pursue a Parliamentary career. He was a shy and reticent man, but he was not the cold, grasping figure portrayed by some historians. He was greatly admired by those who knew him well, and he was loved and respected by family and friends.

William Henry Fox Talbot. Cloisters, Lacock Abbey. 1843

William Henry Fox Talbot. Pantheon. 1843

William Henry Fox Talbot. Courtyard Scene. c. 1844

William Henry Fox Talbot. Ships at Low Tide. c. 1844

William Henry Fox Talbot. The Haystack. 1844-45

William Henry Fox Talbot. The Ladder. 1845

William Henry Fox Talbot. Henrietta Horatia Maria Feilding. c. 1845

 

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