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Henry Fox Talbot
The Hungerford Bridge, London
Salt print from calotype negative
6.65 x 8.40 in
As invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839, the photographic negative and the positive prints it produced were both made of paper. This gave the image a sketchy, Romantic quality that appealed to artistic tastes of the day, including Talbot's. But the nostalgia for ancient architecture, unsullied nature, and peasant life instilled by such art was at odds with the progress toward a mechanized, industrialized future that inventions like photography and engineering feats like the Hungerford Bridge promised.
The bridge was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was, like Talbot, a founding genius of new technologies. He pioneered the construction of suspension bridges, tunnels, steamships and the Great Western Railway, where Talbot's cousin Kit was a director. But Talbot wasn't a single-minded Progressive like Brunel. That he was of two minds is evident from the way he put in the foreground of his photograph, as if to soften the bridge's effect, the picturesque old skiffs that had ferried goods across the Thames before the bridge existed.
In addition to being an inventor, Talbot was a country squire, having inherited an ancestral home when only six months old. Thus, despite being an enthusiast of railroads who held a locomotion patent himself, he tied up Brunel in court when the railroad tycoon sought a right of way through part of the Talbot land. Though Hungerford Bridge was demolished only fifteen years after being built, one memorial to Brunel that has outlasted most of what he built is a portrait made in 1857.
[This print was in The Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York and is listed as such in Larry Schaaf "The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot" (2000). A part of that collection was transferred to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.]