William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–77) was a gentleman scientist in Victorian England. He is best known for his development of the calotype, an early photographic process that involved the use of a negative, from which multiple prints could be made. Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844–46) was the first mass-produced book with photographic illustrations.
This new book entitled William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography serves as a primer on the work of William Henry Fox Talbot, an interdisciplinary innovator who drew on his knowledge of art, botany, chemistry and optics to become one of the inventors of photography in 1839. Talbot’s “photogenic drawings” (photograms), calotypes and salted paper prints are some of the first-ever examples of images captured on paper.
Accompanying the exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh who opened this month, this volume brings together more than 30 photographs by Talbot that demonstrate his wide-ranging interests, including nature, still-life, portraiture, architecture and landscape. Some of these images are previously unpublished. Through thematic groupings elucidated by noted Talbot scholar Larry Schaaf, the book reveals the photographer’s early striving to test the boundaries of his medium at a historic moment when art and science intersected. With its luminous reproductions of Talbot’s fragile works, this publication demonstrates that, in its earliest days, photography required a form of magic-making and innovation that continues to inspire people today.
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