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Exhibition: Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph, April-September 2016

The Science Museum is to present a major exhibition exploring the work of British photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph, which opens in the Museum’s Media Space in April, will present the birth of photography in Britain within its industrial and social context, and reveal the extent of Talbot’s remarkable experiments as the figurehead of a new and influential medium that changed the way people saw themselves and the world.

The Science Museum Group, as custodians of the world’s most comprehensive and important collection of work by William Henry Fox Talbot, is uniquely placed to tell the story of how photography was borne out of a 19th century desire to experiment with emerging ideas and technologies. Photography was one of many fields in which Talbot was working, but it was his invention of the negative-positive process which formed the basis of photography around the world for over 150 years, that immortalised him as the father of the medium.

Five years after making his discovery public he published The Pencil of Nature, the first commercial publication to be illustrated using photographs. Alongside his artistic and scientific aspirations for the medium, Talbot had one eye on its commercial potential. The exhibition is a testament to Talbot’s magical and industrial visions for his invention, ranging from the delicate capture of natural specimens to functional ambitions for photography as a means of mass production.

In 1934, Talbot’s granddaughter Matilda organised an exhibition marking the centenary of his first photographic experiments at Lacock Abbey, the site of production for what is considered to be the earliest photographic negative - the latticed window - taken using an improvised ‘mousetrap’ camera. Shortly after this exhibition, approximately 6,500 items were transferred from Talbot’s former home to the Science Museum so that his unique and valuable works, including some incredibly fragile items, could be preserved for the nation. Some of the earliest examples of his processes will be displayed for the first time in this exhibition.


Russell Roberts, co-curator and Reader in Photography at the University of South Wales said: ‘Photography without question was one of the most profound inventions of 19th century Britain. Talbot not only set in motion a new way of seeing but, through his writings and experiments, identified the distinctiveness of photography as an art, science and industry. He left an extensive visual record of the medium’s possibilities that reveals a sophisticated consciousness at work. This exhibition allows us to fully appreciate the extent of his achievements and to reinforce the impact of his invention on social and cultural life.

Greg Hobson, co-curator and Curator of Photographs, National Media Museum said: ‘William Henry Fox Talbot wasn’t only one of the key figures in the invention of photography; he anticipated its uses and usefulness with intelligence and a vision for its critical role in modernity. It is a delight to be able to examine these significant contributions through our remarkable holdings in the National Photography Collection.'

Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph explores how the work of this pioneer bridged art, science and industry to define what was possible in the formative moments of photography. The Science Museum’s industrial collections will complement the early Talbot work in the exhibition. They will situate Talbot’s experiments in the context of other contemporary innovations and set the scene for how people shared ideas at the time.

The exhibition also explores the relationships between a network of photographers who gravitated towards Talbot’s process but who each took photography into different territory. Assessing their artistic contribution and social legacy, it reflects on how enthusiasm for photography was initially limited to a small close-knit, elite group of people.

Towards the end of the exhibition, the work of Talbot’s contemporaries including Anna Atkins, Hill and Adamson, and Calvert Jones will be displayed in an exploration of how technology, techniques and practices were shared or inspired others in different parts of the country to a variety of ends.

Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photography
14 April – 11 September 2016, Media Space, Science Museum, London
Admission £8, Seniors £7, Concessions £6 (prices include donation)

William Henry Fox Talbot, a special catalogue published to accompany the exhibition will feature 100 high-quality reproductions of Talbot’s work, RRP £27.95.

For more about the exhibition, visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/foxtalbot

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