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Henry Fox Talbot
Salted paper print from calotype negative
6¢ x 8+ in (16.5 x 21 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
With a watermark indicating the paper manufacturer's name and date 1842
William Henry Fox Talbot invented the negative-positive photographic process, the polarizing microscope and a design for a linear motor. He developed a method for measuring the distance between fixed stars, was one of few scholars able to translate Assyrian cuneiform, was a notable botanist, and photo-engraver. Talbot's interest in photography was forged in 1833 when, at Lake Como, he was making sketches with his camera lucida. His earliest photogenic drawings (i.e, photograms) were of leaves and lace pressed against this special paper and exposed to sunlight. He next worked on using his invention to record the objects he saw through the camera obscura. Since his earliest drawings were reversed, he devised a solution to this fault. His friend, Sir John Herschel, characterized the process as relying on negative (the original reversed image) and positive (the photographic print or copy).
Talbot recognized photography as a fine art form. "We have sufficient authority in the Dutch School of Art for taking as subjects of representation scenes of daily and familiar occurrence. A painter's eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings." True of this image, we see Isambard Kingdom Brunel's suspension pedestrian footbridge, or the Hungerford Bridge, which opened in 1845. It spanned from the River Thames from The Embankment to Lambeth and linked London's West End with the South Bank. The photographer's composition sets the masts of the boats against an engineering marvel, the bridge.
This photograph was included in a lot sold at the Swann Galleries auction "Important 19th & 20th Century Photographs" (New York, Mon Oct 15, 2007).