The father of photography - Fox Talbot
The Fox Talbot Photographic Museum, Lacock
I always enjoy visiting the Wiltshire village of Lacock and, on this occasion, called in at the Fox Talbot Photographic Museum. Operated by the National Trust, the museum celebrates the history of photography and the role that William Henry Fox Talbot played. The exhibits are all on the ground floor of the building, with an upstairs photographic gallery which has a variety of exhibitions throughout the year. National Trust members have free entry and free parking in the Hither Way car park nearby.
William Henry Fox Talbot
Fox Talbot was born on 11th February 1800 and became a well-educated and brilliant man. He was regarded as a polymath, a person having a deep understanding of a wide range of subjects. In addition to his photographic discoveries, he could interpret cuneiform, a deep knowledge of ancient history. Chemistry and calculus also formed part of his academic intelligence.
Whilst many during his time of research and earlier were experimenting with capturing images, particularly the Frenchman Louis Daguerre. Fox-Talbots process for making photographs was different to Daguerre’s. The Frenchman at first had a superior process, but with experimentation, Fox Talbot produced a better product. Daguerre’s method (Daguerrotypes) produced one-off images, whereas the Lacock-based pioneer using his Calotypes, could make many copies from one image. Interestingly, Fox Talbot refused to name his process after himself and used the name Calotype. He announced the process to the world in 1841.
Fox Talbot Photographic Museum
The museum exhibits include some fine old images taken by Fox Talbot and quite a selection of cameras. Many young people today will be amazed at the complicated process of taking a photograph over a hundred years ago. Until digital cameras and our smartphones came along, the process, although improved since the 19th century, still required film and the processing of negatives to positive images. It was a relatively expensive process, even with the automation of developing and printing in the latter years of the pre-digital era. Today, some prefer to use a camera with film over the digital offerings on the market.
Fox Talbot was the first to make it possible to take a photograph in minutes rather than the hour or two it had taken previously. Now portraits could be taken, as long as the sitter didn’t move whilst the shot was exposed onto the photographic plate. Cameras moved on as did the process so that faster shutter speeds could be used in fractions of a second, and with digital, no film or processing is required. Gone are days of handing in film for processing to the chemist shop or photo lab and hoping the results were good.
Fox Talbot died in 1877, leaving a legacy in the photographic world. The display of cameras in the museum shows examples from the wooded boxes of the 19th century to the more recognisable style of 120 roll or 35mm cameras from the 1920s onwards. He lived at Lacock Abbey, which you can also visit and enjoy the gardens and the cloisters which Harry Potter fans love to see, as they were used in one of the movies.
If you visit Lacock, do take a look around the museum and the current photographic art display.
To have a look around Lacock, check out my video tour.
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