During the history of Photography, there have been a numerous amount of innovators. Some of these pioneers of photography tested the time with each of their creations. One of these innovators that stood out the most was none other than William Henry Fox Talbot.
Talbot was born in Melbury, Dorset England during the year of 1800. He was a well-educated man receiving his education at Trinity College and Cambridge. He also received his Maters of Arts degree in 1826. His intellectual and aristocratic curiosities explored the fields of mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, botany, philosophy, philology, and Egyptology and art history. Throughout the time he was on this earth he published four books and twenty-seven scholarly articles that consisted of wide varieties of subjects.
One of Talbot’s main accomplishments was how he changed how photography was viewed during that time period. Talbot became frustrated on how the camera lucida, that led him to regain memories of a different drafting aid which was the camera obscura. The camera obscura was a small wooden box with a lens at one end that would project the scene before it onto a piece of frosted glass at the back. The artist could then trace the outlines on thin paper. During that time period that was how photography was presented to the public. Though it was the best technology that was offered during that era, Talbot was still unsatisfied with the work that camera obscura could produce. He began contemplating ideas that would allow natural images to be imprinted on paper.
In January 1834, Talbot returned to his home in Lacock Abbey, and began conducting experiments to make photography be visible on paper. He soon found out through his experiments that coating a sheet of writing paper with salt and brushed with silver nitrate, darkened in the sun and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening and fading. Talbot used his newfound discovery to set a pressed leaf on a piece of sensitive paper, covered it with a sheet of glass and set it in the sun. When the light struck the specimen the paper darkened, yet wherever the plant blocked the light it remained white. He called his newly found discovery “the art of photogenic drawing.”
Talbot remained experimenting with his new innovations, but had a four-year span where he focused his time on other endeavors. However, when the news through the grape vine arrived that a Frenchman Louis Daguerre had invented a whole different means of recording camera pictures. Daguerre means of recording camera photographs consisted of fascinating precision on metal plates. The process was named after its creator, being known as the “Daguerreotype.” It created a highly detailed image on a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver without the use of negative. The process required extreme precaution and the exposure time ranged from three to fifteen minutes.
When Tablot learned of the innovations that Daguerre was producing, he quickly began to revisit his early experiments that would match up to the Daguerreotype. Though Talbot’s photogenic drawings were lovely as objects and useful for scientific notations, he knew that a fast, permanent and accurate means of producing photographic images were the mild stone. That is why in September 23, 1840, he found a way to change exposure time. Talbot discovered that an exposure of mere seconds, leaving no visible trace on the chemically treated paper could be brought out with the application of a solution of gallic acid. To create this negative image he first exposed paper sensitized with potassium iodide and silver nitrate solutions in a camera, and then developed it in acetic and gallic acids. The discovery was called “calotype,” which opened new doors when it came to photography. Calotype came form the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful. In 1841, Talbot patented the calotype process.
Talbot’s early photogenic drawings, such as those in the Bertoloni Album were only partially stabilized with a solution of salt. A more permanent means of fixing the problem was with hyposulfite, or scientist Sir John Herschel introduced hypo, of soda. “Hypo” was adopted by Talbot for most of his prints beginning in the early 1840’s, and is still used today as a fixer for black-and-white photographs. With getting all his pieces situated, Talbot set out to promote his invention. He traveled to Paris in May 1843 to negotiate a licensing agreement for the French rights of his patented calotype and to give instructions.
When displaying his invention at home, he showed an illustration book, The Pencil of Nature. The publication was the first to explain and illustrate the scientific and practical applications of photography. In less than a decade, Talbot conceived and formed a new way of making photographs. The Open Door, a salted paper print from a calotype negative taken in 1843, was applauded for being both scientific and artistic. The image became evidence that combined a range of tonalities and texture. He also perfected the optical and chemical aspects of photography, and learned to use the medium to make complex images for the botanist, historian, traveler and artist. Talbot spent the last twenty-five years of his life developing and perfecting his process.
Talbot was an innovator that helped his generation view photography in a different light. He helped fueled photography to be explored more deeply, and pushed it to further lengths with each invention. Talbot viewed photography as evidence of facts. He was more concerned with applications and scientific theories; he was also interested in intellectual matters that consisted of artistic treatments.