Friday, 14 August 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot - with gratitude.

This is the famous Oriel window in the South Gallery at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. It was the image of his first photo! We’re fortunate to live near to Lacock Abbey, which for many years was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) one of the outstanding pioneers and contributors to the development of the photographic process. Nowadays, we live in such a visual and graphic world, where the influence of still and moving images is so much part of everyday life, it is difficult to imagine life without the discoveries of Talbot. Talbot did not invent photography, but he did discover the process, which has underpinned photography for most of the last 160 years. It was whilst on honeymoon and trying to unsuccessfully sketch the scenery around Lake Como in Italy, he began to imagine a new machine with light sensitive paper that would make the sketches for him automatically. Of course, whether he should have been thinking about such things whilst on his honeymoon, is another matter. He ultimately discovered the negative/positive process and went on to develop the three primary elements of photography: developing, fixing and printing. One thing I didn’t realise until yesterday, is he was also a Biblical scholar. It explains why he titled his most famous book ‘The Pencil of Nature.’ This resonates with the expression, whose origin I can’t recall, ‘the habits of God’ used to describe the patterns we see in the natural world. This is exactly what the world beyond the church needs to see – discernible patterns in ordinary, but real lives, which have a divine origin – something which displays the divine imprint.

Talbot described how he took his pictures:

"Not having with me... a camera obscura of any considerable size, I constructed one out of a large box, the image being thrown upon one end of it by a good object-glass fixed at the opposite end. The apparatus being armed with a sensitive paper, was taken out in a summar afternoon, and placed about one hundred yards from a building favourably illuminated by the sun. An or so afterwards I opened the box and I found depicted upon the paper a very distinct representation of the building, with the exception of those parts of it which lay in the shade. A little experience in this branch of the art showed me that with a smaller camera obscura the effect would be produced in a smaller time. Accordingly I had several small boxes made, in which I fixed lenses of shorter focus, and with these I obtained very perfect, but extremely small pictures..."


Melissa said...

just watched a British film on Mr. Talbot today in class. was curious if he was a follower. i was struck by what a gift God gave us in this man. how he had planned his arrival at just the right time and place since the dawn of time. what joy the reality of His sovereignty brings. thanks for your post.

Nigel Coles said...

thanks for that Melissa - I agree. What was the film - I'd like to check it out