The PhotoBook

May 26, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot


Photographs copyright of the Estate of William Henry Fox Talbot, courtesy Phaidon Press

This retrospective book edited by Geoffrey Batchen about William Henry Fox Talbot (b. 1800, d. 1877) is very nicely written, well printed and does a wonderful job of keeping William Henry Fox Talbot’s extensive early photographic work in perspective.

There are his early technical photographic achievements and insights, such the contact negative print, known as the (salt-paper) Calotype, and his insight that if you used the negative print to contact print another photograph, it would be a positive. And along the way, figured out the basic formula to “fix” an image, with a suggestion from John Herschel, such that the image did not fade away. Subsequently in 1852 he worked out the photogravure printing process, making it possible to have high quality images in books. He may be the first person to use flash photography in 1851.

Talbot also made some nice photographic images including both urban and natural landscapes, botany details (salt-paper Calotypes), family photographs and documentary of upper class life on the estate. For me, I find that the book includes a number of wonderful images, such as the natural landscape photograph of the Oak Tree in Winter, between 1842-43 that is tipped into the book cover and included within the book, above.

I was captivated by plate 31, High Street, Oxford, 1843, third image below. For me, this photograph has similar qualities to the photographic work of Eugene Atget.  Due to the long exposure, the people of the street almost disappear, with slight traces of their presence, with the exception of the horse and carriage far up the street. The photograph has the foreground slightly out of focus, providing depth to the image, while the domed building far down the street is starting to fade into the sky. The image has a nice flow to it and the light reflecting off the near windows on the left provides a nice balance.

Talbot had used contact prints of plants while investigating his photographic discover, first photograph below.  Later he returned in 1853 to further explore the possibilities of his salt-paper Calotypes by contact printing more of his botany specimens, such as Seeds, second photography below. An interesting process still being utilized by artist today.

This book is a nice starting point for those who are interested in the history and development of the photographic and printing processes. It is well thought out and provides wonderful information about the man who started the art of photography as we know it today. I found that although I was familiar with Talbot’s technical achievements, that I was not as aware of his photographic body of work.

The 8 3/4″ x 10 7/8″ hardcover book with a tipped-in image on the front cover was printed in China in 2008. There are 55 plates, each plate has a facing caption, proximal dating and a brief background article about the accompaning photograph. The book is paged in the introductory text, but the remaining pages are not stated, with 124 pages per my count, plus end-papers. There is also a Biography for Talbot at the end of the book.







by Douglas Stockdale



  1. […] I have found myself very interested in a very old photographic technique that is as old as photography itself. Because making contact prints of objects on photo-sensitive paper was the very first photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841, which I wrote about here. […]

    Pingback by Cameraless photographs – Calotypes « Singular Images — July 22, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

  2. […] “Lumen” (light) prints, his camera-less process is almost identical to that utilized by William Henry Fox Talbot, a salt print process that Talbot invented in 1841. Talbot called his resulting prints calotypes, […]

    Pingback by Jerry Burchfield – Primal Images « The PhotoBook — July 22, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  3. […] process dates back to the earliest of the photographic process. This is a camera-less process by William Henry Fox Talbot, a salt print contact printing process invented in 1841. Like Talbot’s process of over a hundred […]

    Pingback by Jerry Burchfield – Understory « The PhotoBook — July 28, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

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