Talbot

William Henry Fox Talbot


11.02.1800 - 17.9.1877, Scholar and inventor of photography

After some renewed expe-riences of this kind on a journey to the Lake Como in 1833 he decided to search a possibility to fix the volatile optical pictures directly: “the inimitable beauty of pictures, painted by nature, thrown trough the glass-lens of a camera upon the paper in its focus...I pur-sued the idea...how delight-ful it would be...to make these natural pictures dura-ble and keep them upon the paper.“

In 1834 he started specific experiments to reach this aim. In the beginning he tried silver chloride like his compatriots Wedgewood and Davy when they produced photograms in 1802, even so there was no fixing-bath at hand to keep this pictures. Meanwhile Sir John Frederic William Herschel, a polymath, too, and a personal friend found in 1819 that sodium thiosulfate can be used as fixing bath for photographs with silver halides. Later Sir Herschel created the terms “photography“ as well as “negative“ and “positive“ that are used until today. For the moment Herschel's hint to sodium thiosulfate made it possible for Talbot to fix his first real paper negative of a window of his residence Lacock Abbey, made in 1835.


After these first and rather unsatisfactory re-sults Talbot turned to other projects during the following years. In 1838 he continued his photographic efforts and was preparing a pub-lication on this subject. Just then – in January

1839 - came the announcement from the french Academie des Sciences in Pa-ris about the publication of the invention of photography by Daguerre. Talbot felt himself pushed to present his own unfinished results in a hurry to save his own claim of invention.

Talbot grew up in the wealthy circumstances of the british upper class. There he became a scholar who was erudite in many academic disciplines. His contributions especially in the field of mathematics, astronomy, physics, psychology, botany and for the deciphe-ring of persian cuneiform are relevant until today. He was assigned as member of seve-ral academic associations and got the honorary doctor's degree from the university of Edinburgh. In 1976 a moon krater was named after him.


As it was common in his social circles he undertook several voyages through Europe and on this occasions he tried to make sketches and drawings. But just with this he was not very successful: “When the eye move apart from the prism – where everything looks fine – I felt that the unfaithful pen left only sad traces on the paper.“ - thus his comment about his own attempts to keep hie visual impressions by aid of a camera lucida.

In final analysis Talbot laid the founda-tion stone for the analog photography up to the present day. In 1851 his compatriot Frederic Scott Archer achieved success in fixing the photosensitive layer with collo-dion on glass plates instead of paper so that the negatives became clear and sharp 

without disturbing structures. This method superseded within shortest time the Kalo-type as well as the Daguerreotype and led photography further on its prosperous way.


Because of a special handicap Archer's proceeding wasn't suitable for amateurs, neither. One is to prepare the plate oneself straight before the picture shall be taken so that it can be exposed and developed in still wet condition, otherwise the lightsensitive will fail. Therefore it is called “Wet Plate Photographie“.


In 1871 Richard Leach Maddox got a patent on a dry plate. After some improvements it could be produced in industrial extend since 1878. In 1886 the pastor Hannibal Good-win got a patent for photographic film, using celluloid as base for the photosensitive layer – the preconditions for widespread amateur photography were created.


Many further advances took place until todays perfection of analog photography was reached. At Talbot's time many of the Kalotypes appeared nearly as painting because of the necessity of retouche. The low sensitivity for the red part of light in the early days of photography demanded this especially for the always reddish hue of skin, but that is today only one interesting part of the history of photography. Talbot himself made the world's  first books  with photographic illustration:  „The Pencil of Nature“  in 1844 and 

„Sun Pictures of Scotland“ in 1845. For there was no printing technique in this time every picture in these books is a real photography as handmade copy. Still today the analog photography stands for the stable preserving of important moments, taken from the relentless passage of time, based on the invention of William Henry Fox Talbot.

Soon it was to be seen that Talbot's proceeding was completely different from Daguerre's method. The most obvious distinction lays in the circumstance of Talbot's technique is a negative-positive process with the possibility of as much copies as wanted while Daguerreo-types are just unikats. In spite of this clear advantage the as „Photogenic Drawings“ labelled photographs of Talbot found nearly no attention. Problably it is the merit of Talbot's friends that he continued despite this frustration.


The ongoing work on the Photogenic Drawings finally led to a new process that works with the development of a latent image as it is with the Daguerreotype. Talbot named this as “Kalotype“, his followers mentioned it as “Talbotype“. He got it patented in 1841 but there were many to critize him because of this patent claim because they don't understood why such a wealthy man reached out for these emoluments. The real background for this was conceivable the circumstance that the french government, who purchased the invention of Daguerre, gave this as a present to the whole world – but except Great Britain. In the Uni-ted Kingdom there was a patent on the Daguerreotype as well and Daguerre insisted on the emoluments. This theory about Talbot's motivation for his patent claim seems to be confir-med by the fact that he pursued this claim only within Great Britain, where the Daguerrian claims were in effect, too.

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