Photography is such a constant in our culture that we've forgotten that years ago it must have seemed more like magic than art, science, or craft. The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot brings us back to the spectacular moment of wonder when photography was first invented. Talbot, born 200 years ago, was a successful mathematician and frustrated draftsman when he invented photography out of his personal desire to make more realistic drawings. He saw his new process as a way for nature to make her own perfect pictures.
Talbot first experimented with salts of silver that produced sun-darkened shadows of objects placed on paper. Many experiments later, he realized that negatives could be reversed, and was eventually able to produce multiple prints. Apart from the brilliance of his invention, the images that Talbot captured are beautiful and mysterious. Softer than modern photography, these pictures look like paintings: gentle leaves, breath-taking sunlight glowing through windows, negatives of intricate lace, reproductions of paintings, and posed pictures of family. Talbot varied the size of his images, making tiny prints from boxes he called mousetraps (a mouselike perspective on the world) to larger landscape portraits. The magic resonates with a thoughtfulness that may have resulted from the slow process of early image-making. How amazing it must have been, seeing and creating the world on paper for the very first time. Aside from the spectacular pictures, the text covers Talbot's life and his experimental processes, and each of the 100 images is given its own explanatory text. --J.P. Cohen [via]