The Pencil of Nature written by William Henry Fox Talbot is truly a masterpiece; an exquisite piece of workmanship that is deemed as momentous in the history of photography. Published in six installments between 1844 and 1846, it boasts of being the first photographically illustrated book…
He was also a fellow of the Astronomical, Linnean, and Royal Societies. His literary works include four books and twenty-seven scholarly articles on diverse subjects. Although Talbot did not invent photography, he discovered the process of making negatives and developed the three primary elements of photography developing, fixing and printing. From this technical milestone modern photography is derived. He patented his process in 1841, and the following year was rewarded with a medal from the Royal Society for this achievement (Historic Figures).
Throughout 1839-40, he conducted rigorous photographic research and in 1841 decided to patent his discovery that he called the calotype and later the talbotype process. In this, the negative paper direct image was printed onto a sensitized sheet placed underneath. Though it was advancement from the daguerreotype, the process formerly used that produced only a single copy, it had its drawback. The image was not sharp like the daguerreotype as the paper fibers degraded its quality. After further experimenting with this new finding, making it more refined he thought it's high time that prints should be produced for sale. Taking the assistance of his valet and confidante Nicolaas Henneman, he erected a processing studio called Reading Establishment. Since Lacock had a high market for photographs, the studio was between London and Lacock, so both can be easily reached.
The first few days were mundane but with the passage of time demand and production increased with 10,400 prints made in just seven months most of which were portraits and copies of paintings, in addition to prints from Fox Talbot's own stock of negatives. (Maley). It was in these years that the priceless treasure The Pencil of Nature was produced.
It is a series of engaging books with twenty-four plates that keep the reader or even the one who is just flipping through the pages, engrossed. In it, Talbot included pictures of sculpture, lithographs and drawings to show how photography could be of use in the study of art. He published a facsimile of a printed page to demonstrate how writing could be duplicated. His images of a piece of lace, each one unique, were made by using the lace itself as a negative (Grundberg). The images tell a story in themselves and even appeal a layman who is not familiar with the medium of photography. Some of the plates though being plain and simple are sheer evidence of Talbot's artistic sense such as 'The Haystack' that pictures a leaning ladder, 'The Open Door,' with its askew broom and a still life called 'A Fruit Piece'. They depict the modern day painting style (Grundberg).
The interest in the series is further developed with the introduction and accompanying text, written in conversational style for each plate and Talbot's strong artistic sense that made the piece aesthetically appealing.
The complete list of plates is as follows (The Pencil of Nature):
- Part 1
I. Part of Queen's College, Oxford
II. View of the Boulevards at Paris
III. Articles of China
IV. Articles of Glass
V. Bust of Patroclus
- Part 2
VI. The Open Door
VII. Leaf of a Plant
VIII. A Scene in a Library
IX. Fac-simile of an Old Printed Page
X. The Haystack
XI. Copy of a ...
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