Presenting the dawn of photography in Britain within its industrial and social context, and revealing the extent and impact of William Henry Fox Talbot’s pioneering experiments with the form, London’s Science Museum unveils a major new exhibition on the rise of a medium that changed the way people saw themselves and the world.
The Science Museum, the custodian of the world’s most comprehensive and important collection of work by Talbot (some 6,500 items), is uniquely placed to tell the story of how photography as we know it grew from a 19th century desire to experiment with emerging ideas and technologies. Photography was just one of many fields in which Talbot was working, but it was his invention of the negative-positive process 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 illustrated using photographs. Alongside his artistic and scientific aspirations, Talbot had one eye on its commercial potential. The exhibition is a testament to his visions for his invention, ranging from the delicate capture of natural specimens to functional ambitions for photography as a means of mass production.
It will consider how Talbot’s approach bridged art, science and industry to define what was possible. The Science Museum’s industrial collections complement the early Talbot work, situating it in the context of other contemporary innovations. The exhibition also reveals how people shared ideas at the time, considering the relationships between a network of photographers who gravitated towards Talbot’s process but who each took the form into different territory.
Russell Roberts, co-curator, 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.”
Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph, 14 April – 11 September, Media Space, Science Museum, London.
Find out more: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/foxtalbot.
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1. William Henry Fox Talbot, Insect wings, as seen in a solar microscope, c 1840. National Media Museum Collection.