Fox Talbot Shows First Photos

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Fox Talbot Shows First Photos

Mayfair, London The 25th of January 1839 AD

There is an argument still unresolved about who was the first photographer. The French not unnaturally vote for their own Niepce, though his heliographic engraving process is perhaps closer to copying than what we would call photography, slim though the distinction may be, and given his images took eight hours to produce they don’t feel like photography. Our Gallic neighbours also promote Daguerre, who collaborated with Niepce, and in 1838 made the first photographic image of a human along with other advances. We British tend to side patriotically with Henry Fox Talbot, whose image of a window at his Lacock Abbey home is often regarded as the first real photo.
Fox Talbot didn’t help his case as the great innovator by taking his first images in 1834, but not revealing them to the world – shown at the Royal Institution – until January 25 1839, spurred on by news of Daguerre’s work. He quickly thereafter gave details of his experiments to the Royal Society.
Independently wealthy – and well connected enough to be MP for his home area of Chippenham from 1832 to 1835, let’s hope he declared inventing photography on the members’ register of interests – Fox Talbot had been a brilliant mathematical scholar at Trinity College Cambridge, and worked on the area of optics in his twenties, soon turning to a more practical application of his theoretical knowledge.
What may help Talbot’s case as a true innovator is the nature of the earliest surviving image, his negative of a latticed window. It is simple, clean, whether by accident or design taken at an angle that gives a sense of perspective. It is indeed strangely beautiful, an emotive thing. So even if we give the French the honour of producing the first photo (and I am not saying we should), we can argue very strongly that Fox Talbot was the first true photographer: capturing more than just light he captures a moment and a thing of beauty.

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