Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts presents the first Russian exhibition of works by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), one of the inventors of photography. The exhibition will display rare photographs which became iconic milestones in the history of visual arts: about 150 original prints and negatives from the collections of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (UK), as well as imaging devices: a camera obscura and camera lucida from the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow. This display of early British photographs continues the series of museum projects aimed at acquainting the audience with masterpieces of photographic art.
Talbot, a British aristocrat and scholar, was a keen explorer of physics, chemistry, mathematics, archeology and politics. In his reports to the Royal Society of London, he spoke about the promotion of natural sciences. In the history of photography, Talbot is famous as the inventor of the negative-positive process for making photographic images. He began his experiments with making photographic prints on paper in 1834 in Lacock Abbey, his ancestral mansion. In 1835, he managed to produce a positive image from a paper negative on light-sensitive paper. Thus, it became possible to replicate images. Talbot designed a simple and inexpensive photographic process which was named calotype (from the Greek words kalos, “beautiful,” and tupos, “impression”) and patented in 1841.
In the early 19th century, Talbot’s peers in the field of making photo images, the Frenchmen Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851), were also successful in the field of commercial photography. Talbot’s method was not as popular as the daguerreotype. This can be partially explained by patents which restricted the use of the Talbot process, as well as the failure of calotype to clearly reproduce small details, which was an advantage of Daguerre’s invention. However, it was calotype, which made it possible to create negatives and many positive prints, that formed the basis of modern photographic processes.
Talbot’s scientific discovery was a breakthrough in image-making technology, and it determined the path of photographic art. Unlike the distinct and precise daguerreotypes, calotype images had a certain picturesque quality. This helped photography to no longer be perceived solely as a real-life record process. In 1844, Talbot published the album “The Pencil of Nature” with original prints accompanied by his comments, where he described his invention and the artistic potential of photography. The album depicted the entire range of photography styles: landscape, still life, portrait, and genre pictures.
The exposition presents works created in 1840-1846, including prints from “The Pencil of Nature” (1844) and “Sun Pictures in Scotland” (1845).
Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts: “The name Talbot is just as important in the history of photography as Da Vinci is in the history of painting. Thanks to this man, photography became an art rather than just a tool to represent reality. This museum exhibition is critically important to the understanding of the progress and origins of the art. It was extremely difficult to set it up. We worked on this project for six years. Now we are very pleased to view and share the original works of the master.”
Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Director of the National Science and Media Museum: “The collection of Talbot works in our museum is both rich and deeply intellectual in its nature. Along with other exhibits displaying various photographic processes and technologies, this collection attracts constant worldwide attention from researchers and always raises the interest of visitors at galleries and exhibitions.”
Olga Averyanova, Exhibition Curator and Head of the Photographic Art Department of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts: “The perception of photography as an art was the result of a lengthy liberation process with its shift away from purely practical purposes. This was accompanied by the origination of a special view toward photography which affirmed its inherent value and made it possible to see it for its own sake. Essentially, this process began with Talbot’s invention of calotype and the determination of the aesthetic values of photography as opposed to its practical functions, subject to logic, utility and profit. This was the time when “the territory of photographic art” began to form. Calotype photographers’ efforts were aimed at establishing this special kind of cultural institution as they formed communities and arranged exhibitions. Early photography did not cast doubts on the merits of painting, which for a long time would remain a kind of focus for its artistic evolution. The paradigm of art would lay the conceptual foundation: for non-commercial photography, the method of presentation would always be more important than the object. Calotype was more than a technology; like any technology, it formed a new artistic code, similar to what the daguerreotype had done earlier, and then brought in all subsequent innovative ideas of photography.”
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