Fern - Sun Print or Photogram created by William Henry Fox Talbot

Having been thinking once again about the history of photography, the VV took herself off on a visit to the village of Lacock Abbey where the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography commemorates the life and pioneering work of William Henry Fox Talbot.

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was a prodigiously intelligent child who, having been born into a wealthy family, was able to leave university and then continue the study of those many subjects that interested him -  including mathematics,  astronomy, and also archaeology. But, of the greatest importance when it comes to the art of photography were those scientific investigations which led to the discovery of the negative/positive process involved in creating 'pictures of light'.

John Hershel and Thomas Wedgwood had both worked with creating photograms – the silhouettes of objects which were placed on chemically coated paper which itself was sensitive to light. When that paper was left in the sunlight, the areas that were then 'exposed' became darker than whatever object was placed on top to block the light. These images could be remarkable - such as when lace and ferns were 'exposed'. However, they were rarely stable and very soon tended to fade away. 

This only made Fox Talbot  determined to find a more durable method of ‘photographic drawing’. He experimented with ‘fixing’ the paper, after which he came to realise that, although it was generally assumed that all pictures required long exposure times, the image might actually be made quite soon; latent, but invisible on the page. If a suitable chemical was applied a negative image could be ‘developed’ from which any number of ‘positives’ could then be printed out. This was quite different from the method used in Louis Daguerre’s 'Daguerreotypes' when a direct positive was set on glass, creating what were often the most remarkable images. But they might only be created once.

L'Atelier de l'artiste, by Daguerre, created in 1837

Fox Talbot’s methods went on to form the basis for almost all subsequent methods employed in the photographic arts, from those first sometimes blurred ghostly images to the digital forms we use today - and though the VV can only imagine what he might have thought about it all, perhaps he would repeat these words which can still make the hair prickle up on her neck -

‘A person unacquainted with the process, if told that nothing of this was executed by hand, must imagine that one has at one’s call the Genius of Alladin’s Lamp. And, indeed, it may almost be said, that this is something of the same kind. It is a little bit of magic realised.’

There is certainly something magical about this latticed oriel window from Fox Talbot’s Lacock Abbey home. This reproduction was printed from the oldest photographic negative in existence; first created by Fox Talbot in 1835. 

For more images which the VV captured in the beautiful setting of Lacock Abbey, please see  MORE WINDOWS AT LACOCK ABBEY.


  1. Thank you for this. I mourn the loss of 'traditional' photographic methods. There is something magical about seeing your images appear on paper in a darkroom. It almost feels like the link with Fox Talbot has been broken.

  2. Great museum at Lacock - not far from me.

  3. 4:43am and I twice mis-read 'often amazed his tutors at Cambridge by being born into a wealthy family.'

  4. This is absolutely lovely, thank you. I went to the Fox Talbot Museum last year - you have reminded me I must go back. What a wonderful blog.

  5. Thank you, Belgravia Wife!

    And, Rehan - Ha! Thank you... I've been back and put that right.