Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph at the London Science Museum’s Media Space

The show is a perfect marriage between science and photography. Fox Tolbot was a scientist, photographer and entrepreneur who invented the photographic negative in 1835 which was a huge leap forward in photographic technology. The negative meant that unlimited photos could easily be produced from one negative. Before Talbot’s negative the first commercially available photographic process, the daguerreotype, produced one-off images on silver plated copper. Talbot’s invention brought photography closer to what we think of it today, a medium where duplication is embedded into its core.

Nelsons column under construction by William Henry Fox Talbot - 1843

Nelsons column under construction by William Henry Fox Talbot – 1843

The exhibition tells the story of his invention through his images and other artefacts including some of his cameras. Along with Fox Talbot’s early experiments is the work of his contemporaries. On display for the first time in London is the earliest surviving daguerreotype shot by its inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839. Talbot was a shrewd businessman, he charged an annual license fee to people who wanted to use his process. This would amount to £300 in today’s money for an amateur license and £18,000 for a commercial licence, but even with the high price there was no shortage of takers.

Otter by John Dillwyn Llewellyn 1850

John Dillwyn Llewelyn 1852 – Example of early nature photography, capturing a live animal with long exposures was not possible so the subject of his nature photos are stuffed.

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson opened the first photographic studio in Edinburgh using the Fox negative-positive process. As well as their commercial work they also produced some of the earliest examples of social documentary photographs. The highlights of this work are their portraits of fishermen in the Newhaven fishing community.

Newhaven fishingmen portraits 1840s by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson

Portraits of Newhaven fishingmen by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson – 1840s

A lot of the work is still life and landscapes; the long exposure times needed meant that these would have been the easiest subjects to shoot. There are also some other little gems including one image titled Unknown man with with a distinctive hair style which even in today’s hipster age looks crazy, let alone in Victorian times. If have more than a passing interest in the history of photography this exhibition is definitely worth a visit.

Fox Talbot Dawn of the Photograph at the Science Museums Media Space

Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph is on until the 11th September 2016 in the Science Museum’s Media Space, entry is £8 more info can be fine on the Science Museum’s website here. Next door to the Science Museum is the Natural History Museum. If you are there before 15th May I recommend you also take a look at Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System which is an exhibition of stunning images of our solar system from 60 years of space exploration, entrance is £9.90 more details here.

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