William Henry Fox Talbot - the father of modern photography and only son of William Davenport Talbot of Lacock Abbey.
Whilst visiting Lacock Abbey we took time to visit the Fox Talbot Museum sited at the entrance. I realised that as an avid photographer I just 'clicked' and took for granted that the outcome would be a replica of what I was looking at. There is obviously a lot more to the origins of modern photography and it was especially interesting to visit the place where it all began.
Although the museum is situated in the family home (Lacock Abbey)Talbot's photos are on display at the British Library in London.
William Henry Fox Talbot was born at Melbury in Dorset on 11th February 1800, at the home of the Earl of Ilchester; his Mother, Lady Elizabeth Fox-Strangeways, was the eldest daughter of the Earl. His Father, William Davenport Talbot, an army officer, died when Henry was only 6 months old so Lady Elizabeth and her son spent the early years of his life in the homes of various relatives.
A brilliant child and gifted scholar, he excelled, both at Harrow and Cambridge, in the classics and sciences.
In 1827 he returned to his ancestral home, Lacock Abbey, where he was Lord of the Manor. In 1832 he married Constance Mundy of Markeaton Hall in Derbyshire. That year he also became member of parliament for Chippenham, but only stayed for about 2 years.
His interests then took him abroad, particularly to Italy. On his travels he used a camera lucida and a camera obscura, optical aids to drawing, which gave him the idea of retaining permanently the images these aids produced.
From 1850 Fox Talbot concentrated on perfecting reproduction techniques, so that original photographs could b e reproduced as printed illustrations. He coated metal plates with bichromated gelatin using silk to form a screen pattern, patenting this process in 1852.
The span of Fox Talbot's life embraces an age of tremendous progress in the arts and sciences in Britain and Europe. When he died in September 1877, he was one of the rare people who had made significant contributions to the advances in both these fields.
Fox Talbot was a classicist as well as a scientist and contributed to many published papers and scientific works.
His two volumes on Classical and Antiquarian Researches, published by Longmans in 1838 put forward some new arguments,while his solutions to obtruse mathematical problems led to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1831. In 1838 he was awarded the Society's Royal Medal for his research on the integral calculus, and in 1842 gained the Rumford Medal for his photographic discoveries.
In the 1850's, Fox Talbot began work on the Assyrian script, an interest that was to last the rest of his life. He became so expert in translating this complex cuneiform writing that he was asked to contribute as an examiner for the British Museum. He also gave financial support to archaeological expeditions.
(Information taken from The National Trust book on Fox Talbot - top photograph from same book)
Whilst in the Abbey grounds we went inside a room sized Camera Obscurer that was set up in the gardens. It was fascinating to be inside and have a view of the whole of one side of the abbey projected onto the wall through what seemed like a pinhole.
The Fox Talbot Museum also houses the work of other famous photographers from time to time. Whilst there the exhibition was showing some of the work of
In the above pictures he had used a Camera Obscurer to superimpose scenes from outside a building onto the objects pictured from inside. There were lots of examples in the exhibition but I found that my camera only really dealt with the black and white images as I was taking them through glass and the lighting was obscuring the coloured images. For more detailed information go to this link.
How fortunate we are to be able to pick up a camera and just click as a result of the work of Fox Talbot.