| || |
Henry Fox Talbot
Mixed China and Glass on Four Shelves
Salt print, from a calotype negative
For a discussion of this a related photographs - Larry Schaaf, 10 June 2016, "The Peripatetic Shelves", William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné
(Accessed: 11 June 2016)
I doubt that Talbot carefully eliminated the background of these images out of a sense of deception, but rather to keep the visual concentration on the subject at hand. We have only a handful of examples where the background sneaks in, but they confirm that Talbot began taking his set of shelves outdoors to take advantage of the light. Peeking over the top of the shelves here is the distinctive architecture of Lacock Abbey’s Cloister garth.
Talbot would have sought out sheltered places at Lacock Abbey to avoid the wind disturbing his camera and fortunately this complex building offers a number of possibilities. While the South Front (home of the latticed Oriel Window) got plenty of light and made it a varied subject itself, it was relatively exposed to breezes coming off the expanses of lawn and probably proved less than ideal for studies like this. He might have set up his shelves in the North, or Tudor Courtyard, the scene of The Open Door and other photographs. It was convenient to the kitchen (the source of chemicals and containers) but this was a working courtyard, with carriages and horses and the bustling activity of servants. Fortunately, just as the nuns had experienced long before his time, Talbot had the tranquility of the Cloister available to him. It is large enough that sunlight reaches its interior much of the day. In fact, its walls casting large patches of shadows that were gently filled by reflected light from opposite walls may well have been an advantage. Pure direct sunlight is great for casting sharp shadows but too harsh in contrast for most subjects. Shadows partially filled by reflected light are sympathetic to most subjects. Glass is a particularly good witness to what is happening on the other side of the lens and Articles of Glass teases us with a multitude of reflections and refractions in its subjects. There will be dozens of little portraits of Talbot in there (perhaps someday a clever bit of software will enable us to extract them) and there is also evidence of the whole scene. Talbot might have hung a large drape to ‘tent’ the glass. Or perhaps the contrasting patches that we can see reflect the openings on the stone walls opposite.