William Henry Fox Talbot

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William Henry Fox Talbot:  Selections from a Private Collection will feature some of Talbot's most iconic work from the early 1840s to 1846. The majority of the prints are on loan from a private collection, and a number of them have never been exhibited before. A fully-illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition.

Driven by a restlessly creative mind, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) conceived of the very idea of photography during the 1830s, combining the use of the camera obscura with light sensitive-chemistry. Unlike other early photographic processes, such as the daguerreotype, Talbot's negative/positive process proved to be not only exciting at the time but also the forerunner of modern photography.

Talbot's photographs are gaining in popularity as interest in the medium of photography has exploded over the last decade.William Henry Fox Talbot: Selections from a Private Collection coincides with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exhibition Impressed by Light:  British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860, which is on view from September 25 through December 30, 2007. The photographers exhibited in Impressed by Light continued what Talbot started, pursuing the art of photography through the use of Talbot's paper negatives.

While photography is known as a medium of multiples and reproduction, each salt print from Talbot's negatives is unique and distinct. Each sheet of paper was coated by hand and then followed through the process of printing. The exhibition William Henry Fox Talbot: Selections from a Private Collection offers an opportunity to examine different handmade prints from the same negative. "These comparisons illustrate differences between printing processes that are an important part of photographic connoisseurship," notes Dr. Larry J. Schaaf, the author of the exhibition catalogue, who has written extensively on the work of William Henry Fox Talbot.  Professor Schaaf is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Arts, London.

Exhibition Highlights:

Represented by exemplary salt prints from calotype paper negatives, William Henry Fox Talbot: Selections from a Private Collectionshowcases many of Talbot's best known images. The Open Door, 1844, which depicts an entryway with a diagonally placed broom, is one of Talbot's most iconic images. The sharp contrast between the bright threshold with a faintly visible window in the dark interior shows how far photography had advanced in just a few years-- and the symbol of an open door suggests how far it might go.

Talbot suggested that photography could serve as a bridge between the ancient and the modern worlds with his Bust of Patroclus, made prior to February 1846. Talbot's picture of Patroclus, known in Greek mythology as the warrior who sacrificed his life for Achilles, is more than a simple reproduction of a plaster cast sculpture. The haunting, sharply outlined bust seems to emerge stoically from a wine-dark sea, creating an epic image befitting the Homeric tradition and serving as an early example of portraiture. The bust was one of Talbot's earliest and most steadily used subjects, made possible by its high relief and willingness to sit still for the lengthy exposure time. The art history world owes a great deal to Talbot, for his invention allowed scholars for the first time to study objects in photographic reproduction.

While his image of Patroclus preserved the ancient past, his 1844 picture of Nelson's Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, London, chronicled Talbot's current world. The famous monument to the Napoleonic War hero is shown surrounded by scaffolding and hoardings, papered with announcements and advertisements. As Schaaf writes in the catalogue, "At the time Talbot took his photograph, the building committee had once again run out of money and construction had stalled."

William Henry Fox Talbot: Selections from a Private Collection includes untrimmed salt prints of images he made for his two landmark publications The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), the first book ever to be illustrated with photographs, and Sun Pictures in Scotland (1845), Talbot's homage to the life of Sir Walter Scott.

As Schaaf notes, "The exhibition William Henry Fox Talbot:  Selections from a Private Collection represents the more mature period of Talbot's work during the first half of the 1840s. They are exceptional examples of the vision of an exceptional human being."


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