Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860
Photography emerged in 1839 in two forms simultaneously. In France, Louis Daguerre produced photographs on silvered sheets of copper, while in Great Britain, William Henry Fox Talbot put forward a method of capturing an image on ordinary writing paper treated with chemicals. Talbot’s invention, a paper negative from which any number of positive prints could be made, became the progenitor of virtually all photography carried out before the digital age. Talbot named his perfected invention "calotype," a term based on the Greek word for beauty. Calotypes were characterized by a capacity for subtle tonal distinctions, massing of light and shadow, and softness of detail. In the 1840s, amateur photographers in Britain responded with enthusiasm to the challenges posed by the new medium. Their subjects were wide-ranging, including landscapes and nature studies, architecture, and portraits. Glass-negative photography, which appeared in 1851, was based on the same principles as the paper negative but yielded a sharper picture, and quickly gained popularity. Despite the rise of glass negatives in commercial photography, many gentlemen of leisure and learning continued to use paper negatives into the 1850s and 1860s. These amateurs did not seek the widespread distribution and international reputation pursued by their commercial counterparts, nearly all of whom favored glass negatives. As a result, many of these calotype works were produced in a small number of prints for friends and fellow photographers or for a family album. This richly illustrated, landmark publication tells the first full history of the calotype, embedding it in the context of Britain’s changing fortunes, intricate class structure, ever-growing industrialization, and the new spirit under Queen Victoria. Of the 118 early photographs presented here in meticulously printed plates, many have never before been published or exhibited.
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