Huellas de Luz. El arte y los experimentos de William Henry Fox Talbot

19 june, 2001 - 2 september, 2001 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 3
Exhibition view. Huellas de Luz. El arte y los experimentos de William Henry Fox Talbot, 2001
Exhibition view. Huellas de Luz. El arte y los experimentos de William Henry Fox Talbot, 2001

William Henry Fox Talbot (Dorset, United Kingdom, 1800 - Wiltshire, UK, 1877) physicist, mathematician, philosopher, Member of Parliament, astronomer and amateur archaeologist, was the first person in history to conceive of photography as an artistic medium, a technique that he had developed as a result of ceaseless experiments during the ten years he devoted to this research.

This exhibition, organised to mark the bicentenary of the author by the National Media Museum under the Science Museum in London, gathers together at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía a sample of four hundred prints and negatives from the several thousand made by Talbot in the decade from 1835 to 1845.

Talbot’s strong desire to capture reality through drawing and his lack of skill to achieve that encourages him to stake his scientific knowledge and find another way to capture all that surrounds him without resorting to pencil and paper. Inspired on a trip to Italy, when he returns to England in 1834 he begins to develop a method based on soaking painting paper in salt solutions with silver compound. In this way he manages to capture the shadows of objects. The outline of an oak leaf or of a piece of lace would be his first samples he produces with what we now call a negative image. He called it shadowgraph.

One of his first pioneering results was the internal vision of light entering the lookout of the Lacock Abbey Gallery captured in 1835 which Talbot named Latticed window at Lacock Abbey. In 1839 there was news of the discovery of photography by Louis Daguerre. Although the methodology used by the French man was very different from his, Talbot was relegated to second place. Without falling into despair, he continues his contact with negative images on objects, especially botanical motives and improves on the chemical used for it. In 1840, Talbot makes huge advances; these are evident in his beautiful images such as the one that portrays the church of St Cyriac in Lacock or another entitled windowsill. That same year he would create a new process that he would call calotype, a method where the negative behaved like a flexible mold allowing multiple copies. Despite its variations, this procedure, unlike daguerreotype - is still used today; the pattern of unlimited reproducibility that we attribute to the photographic technique is based on this method.

Talbot continues taking pictures until 1845. The end of his research in this field comes with the publication of his first book illustrated with photographs titled The Pencil of Nature, referring to the ever-present connection between drawing and photography and to which this exhibition dedicates a section. In it, visitors can consult a facsimile of the first edition where, together with twenty-four sheets there is the text regarding the possibilities of photography and its relationship to art, science and commerce.

This exhibition highlights the importance of Talbot’s discoveries as well as the contemporary relevance of his work. Even his initial approach, Shadowgraph, was used during the first decades of the twentieth century by Christian Schad, who renamed it "schadographs" Man Ray, who would call it "rayograms" and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who would refer to it as "frames".

Exhibitions of photographers Robert Frank in the Sabatini Building and Andreas Gusky at the Palais de Velázquez accompany the Talbot exhibition as the contribution of the Museo Reina Sofía to the photography festival: Photoespaña.

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
National Media Museum, Bradford, in collaboration with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Russell Roberts
Exhibition Tour: 

National Media Museum, Bradford, United Kingdom

William Henry Fox Talbot