First Photographs is an extraordinary view into the origins of photography. This landmark monograph—the only book on Talbot to be authored by the Fox Talbot museum’s curator—includes many never-before-published images of landscapes, architectural studies, and portraits from Talbot’s personal archive and selections from his detailed research notebooks made during the 1830s and 1840s and currently housed at Lacock Abbey in Chippenham, England.
A gentleman and an intellectual, Talbot was a great student of the Arts and Sciences and kept detailed notes of his activities and experiments. He discovered the negative/positive paper process which made multiple reproductions of a single image possible, and which distinguished it from its contemporary, the one-of-a-kind daguerreotype. Talbot first announced his invention to the public in 1839 in his paper, “An Account Of The Art of Photogenic Drawing Or The Process By Which Natural Objects May Be Made To Delineate Themselves Without The Aid Of The Artist’s Pencil.” The work he did during this time established, in principle and in practice, the foundation of modern photography—the basis of the process that is still used today.
In addition to Talbot’s technological contributions, his photographs represent exceptional artistic achievement. First Photographs includes a significant text by the preeminent Talbot scholar today, Michael Gray, who provides a comprehensive essay, biography, and timeline of Talbot’s eventful life and revolutionary work. Arthur Ollman, director of the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, gives an in-depth analysis of the aesthetic and social significance of Talbot’s first image, “Oriel Window.” Curator Carol McCusker considers how the Romantic Movement and the women of the Lacock household influenced Talbot’s aesthetic choices. First Photographs and the accompanying exhibition provide a rare opportunity for contemporary audiences to experience these uncommon images and the personal, cultural, and scientific contexts in which they were made.
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William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was a philosopher, classicist, Egyptologist, mathematician, philologist, transcriber and translator of Syrian and Chaladean cuneiform texts, physicist, and photographer. His first experiments in photography made use of the photogenic process; he then went on to develop the process of creating negatives that could be used to make positive reproductions.From Publishers Weekly:
While the invention of photography can be attributed to more than one person, British polymath William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) is credited with inventing the negative/positive paper process that remains the basis for non-digital photography. Furthermore, his actual shots remain stunning. Gray (director of the Fox Talbot Museum at the Talbot's former Lacock Abbey home in Chippenham, England), along with Ollman and McCusker of San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts, have grouped these early photos by subject matter: sections include "The Domestic World of Lacock Abbey" and "Men of Science and the Reading Establishment." Essays by all three editors, a chronology and a biography give a sense of how they happened. McCusker, in her revealing introductory essay, labels Talbot a "Recorder and Romantic."In Talbot's work-portraits of fruit sellers, ladies in multiple soft layers, chinaware, a haunting kitchen windowsill-she finds that any stereotypical associations or cliches "are confounded by [Talbot's] immersion in and preoccupation with perception, and the Romantic's pursuit of subjective expression." Large, grainy, red-, yellow- or blue-hued images transform a formal silver service (part of the "Breakfast Table" photos), while various shots of mysterious Parisian boulevards, eerie images of delicate lace and leaves of mimosa and fennel bring to mind the intense poetry of Baudelaire or (for the nature shots) Gerard Manley Hopkins. Portraits of local men and farm workers are startlingly unaffected and well composed. Printed on a beautiful, pale yellow stock, Talbot's photographs feel neither modern or archaic, but timeless. While there are plenty of other collections of his work, this one perhaps best captures the spirit with which he made it.
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