Socialist Worker

In the darkroom—looking at how photography developed

by Andriana Sotiris
Issue No. 2501

Fox Talbots The Boulevards of Paris (1843)

Fox Talbot's 'The Boulevards of Paris' (1843) (Pic: Wikipedia)

Fox Talbot—Dawn of the Photograph is the first exhibition in London to explore the life and career of the father of photography.

The exhibition is a unique opportunity to experience Talbot’s work, alongside that of his contemporaries.

It includes one of Louis Daguerre’s earliest “daguerreotypes”, shown in Britain for the first time in history. They were one of the earliest type of photograph.

The exhibition explores both Talbot’s philosophical reflections and practical applications of photography.

Showing both highlights the technological and cultural challenges faced by those who were developing photography during its formative years.

The exhibition itself is based around a timeline of Talbot’s life. It highlights his own and others’ achievements that were significant during the period.

This helps provide some context to the vast amounts of digitally copied works, which were similar and unfortunately lacked individual in-depth descriptions.

We see how Talbot’s achievements transformed visual culture in the 19th century.

His most significant discoveries were his invention of the salted paper and calotype processes, which became the basis of photography for over a century.

Part of the exhibition describes the struggle of the Photographic Society to understand why photographic images didn’t last long when they used the silver salts process.

So Talbot’s development of photochemical reproduction, which eventually led to the modern halftone and photogauvre processes, put Talbot on an intellectual pedestal.

This immortalised him as the father of the medium.


Many examples of photographs taken with this new process are scattered through the exhibition.

A nice quirk to the exhibition was the assortment of trinkets from the 19th century.

One is Talbot’s solar microscope, which is simply a lantern that uses lenses to project highly magnified images of small objects.

It also includes an intimate touch with some of Talbot’s personal items, such as a small statue of Aphrodite and early mousetrap calotype cameras.

My only criticism is that for an exhibition of Talbot’s life, not just photography, it severely lacked examples of his work in physics and mathematics.

They only get a brief mention by looking at papers he’d written shortly before his death. However there are examples of his interest in archaeology, botany and steam engines.

Some descriptions and examples of his work in these other fields were something I had highly anticipated—but was thoroughly disappointed.

Overall it was a unique and fascinating experience that accurately summarised the history and development of photography in the 19th century.

Through masterfully selected artefacts from Talbot’s life, it allows us to understand both the objective science behind photography and the photographers’ subjective self-expression.

Fox Talbot—Dawn of the Photograph. Science Museum, London SW7 2DD. Until 11 September.

Film Review

Director and actor Don Cheadle gives a brilliant performance as jazz legend Miles Davis in Miles Ahead.

Miles Ahead is inspired by events during Davis’ later life.

In the midst of a dazzling career at the forefront of modern jazz, Davis disappears from public in the late 1970s.

Alone and holed up in his home, his mind is haunted by unsettling ghosts from the past. But fictional white music reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) forces his way into Davis’ house.

Over the next couple of days, the two men unwittingly embark on a wild and sometimes harrowing adventure to recover a stolen tape of the musician’s latest compositions. After years of regret and loss, Davis once again finds salvation in art.

Miles Ahead. Directed by Don Cheadle, Sony Pictures Classics, Out now,

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Article information

Tue 26 Apr 2016, 17:42 BST
Issue No. 2501
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