The Birthplace of Photography - Part 1

In the mid to late 1830' Henry Fox Talbot more or less 'invented' modern photography by producing the worlds first photographic negatives. 

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He did this at his home - Laycock Abbey. It's a place I've always wanted to visit and finally I got to do just that a few days ago. Now there is a Fox Talbot museum, but this is like all museums, exhibits behind glass and lots of explanatory text. What I wanted to do was walk around the abbey and see if I could get a feel of those historic days when Fox Talbots research and eventual successful results changed the world. 

 

And somewhat surprisingly, I did. Despite the fact that it is much visited and has been used as the location for many TV dramas and films, including Harry Potter, there was still an atmospheric feel to the place that provided a clue to the fact that this was a place where something special happened. It was my intention to shoot a series of images on my Fuji 6x9 Medium Format film camera, which I did and when the films arrive back (hopefully!) from the lab I will publish them as part 2 of this post. 

I actually enjoyed the visit more than I thought I would. Firstly it's an interesting building and secondly I did get a real sense of what was being attempted and achieved. There are many arguments about the 'invention' of photography and the contributions of Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre. Now having seen and handled a daguerrotype I can testify that these are things of beauty. Seeing one made me think that I would like all my photographic images to look like that, but that is impossible. And yet while the Fox Talbot process is more prosaic, in photographic terms it is much more useful. The image is 'stored' and can be reprinted again and again. And while the process has changed much over the years, the principle is still the same and printing from negatives is still a part of modern photography.

Too often these days, sampling the photographic internet, the impression is given that it is impossible to achieve successful results without all the latest gimmicks. And again and again I complain about the lack of attention given to the primary purpose of photography, to create images. And yes the early photographic pioneers had to be scientists, but they also regarded themselves as artists as well. By choosing to photograph using my 'Texas Leica' I was getting as close as I could to what they achieved. OK, it's a far more advanced piece of equipment that what Fox Talbot was using, but the fact that it is a totally manual and mechanical camera, with no battery, light meter or automation of any kind means that I have to use my knowledge of exposure and the rangefinder focusing system to get results. 

So if you find yourself in the middle of the County of Wiltshire in the UK with a few spare hours I can thoroughly recommend a visit. Hopefully, like me, you will discover that connection back to the earliest days of photography. Something that many these days seem to ignore, as owning 'devices' seems to have eclipsed artistic expression.

Part 2 - hopefully in a week to 10 days.