Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph at the Science Museum from 14th April to 11th September 2016

Exhibition Review – Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph at the Science Museum from 14th April to 11th September 2016



The Science Museum present a major exhibition exploring the work of British photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph, which opens to the public on Thursday 14 April is one of the most significant exhibitions that explore the life and career of the father of photography.

The exhibition considers the birth of photography in Britain is best understood from within its industrial and social context. The 19th century desire to experiment with emerging ideas and technologies led to Fox Talbot to invent the negative-positive process which formed the basis of photography around the world for over 150 years.


Although Fox Talbot is considered the father of photography, other photographic pioneers are included in the exhibition especially the work of Louis Daguerre. On display is one of the oldest surviving daguerreotype entitled Les Coquillages (1839) and other early works.


Fox Talbot had many interests which bought him in contact with many of the leading scientists of the day including Herschel, Brewster, Babbage and Faraday. His early interest in photography was generally from a scientific viewpoint and the exhibition features a large number of his experimental photographs that often featured members of his family, buildings and various objects that offered clear definition like marble statues.


Some of Fox Talbot’s early camera equipment is on display and information about his printing process that was constantly being refined.


It was only when other photography pioneers were developing their own techniques and Fox Talbot began to believe that his work would be overtaken did he make his work public. Five years after making his discovery public he published The Pencil of Nature, the first commercial publication to be illustrated using photographs. The exhibition has a gallery devoted the book and its prints which suggest Fox Talbot was not only just interested in the artistic and scientific aspirations for the medium, but also its commercial potential.


In contrast to Daguerre in France who sold his invention to the state for a considerable amount of money, Fox Talbot patented his invention and began to sell professional licences to use his process at a considerable cost. The outcome of this was that only fairly wealthy photographers were able to use the process, the exhibition features some of these photographers which included Anna Atkins, Hill and Adamson, and Calvert Jones and considers how the enthusiasm for early photography was centred around a small close-knit, elite group of people.


This fascinating exhibition offers considerable insight into Fox Talbot and the development of early photography, in many ways Fox Talbot did not invent photography but his genius was to bring well-known processes together to enable the development of negative-positive process which was to dominate photography.


Another important aspect of Fox Talbot illustrated in the exhibition was his ability to consider many of the medium’s possibilities even if the technology at the time did not allow the possibility to become a reality. With photography, such a major part of every day life, this exhibition offers an opportunity to understand some of the origins of its creation and the defining role undertaken by Fox Talbot.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

14 April – 11 September 2016, Media Space, Science Museum, London

Admission £8, Seniors £7, Concessions £6 (prices include donation)

For more information or book tickets, visit the Science Museum website here

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