The Birth and Future of Photography

This is the story of how William Henry Fox Talbot preserved a moment of the past forever, when he invented the photographic negative. It’s a story of hard work, experimentation and how one man longed for something that was not possible until then — how to preserve that perfect moment, those frozen memories from the past to hold on to. Now here is a beautiful BBC Radio podcast on the topic:

Fox Talbot was a man of some accomplishments, but drawing eluded him. So while on honeymoon in Italy in 1833, he adopted the camera lucida, a tracing device, to help him sketch scenes. “The idea occurred to me,” he later wrote, “how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper.”

Talbot wasn’t the only person experimenting with photography in the 1830s. In Europe and America, the hunt was on to find the right chemical mixture that would react with light to capture an image on paper or glass. Everyone knew that light had an effect on certain dyes and chemicals.

The questions that needed answers were: how do you make a dye which reacts very precisely to light? And then how do you stop your dye reacting to sunlight when you don’t want it to, how do you fix the image?

Fox Talbot found a way to make permanent images. In August 1835 he made what is now the oldest surviving photographic negative in the world. It is a picture of the oriel latticed window at Lacock Abbey, a summer’s day at Fox Talbot’s ancestral home, captured forever in the photographic pane.

World’s earliest surviving negative: Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, 1835, by William Henry Fox Talbot

Now here is a worthwhile BBC Radio podcast. Sit back and enjoy this half-hour program discussing the speed at which Fox Talbot’s invention caught on and the future of the mass reproduction of images in the digital age:

  • right_writes

    Dan, whilst the content contains some minor details that I might not have recalled, the general delivery of this podcast is very typical of the BBC…

    … Patronising and seemingly incapable of delivering information without an accompanying dollop of BBC lefty social comment aka “Guardianspeak”.

    Living as I do in England, I am one of the increasing number of people that wish the BBC would get a dose of reality and jostle for its income in the same manner as other media outlets. Like everyone else here, this was funded from my annual £150 media tax. The BBC licence.

  • … which gives those spoiled public service journalists the privilege to do reports such as this one. No media outlet that has to cover own costs is able to produce such content, it simply makes no commercial sense. I’d love to work for the BBC or one of those European public news services. They have tons of money to spend and can delve into topics to weird and absurd for common news outlets. So I fully agree with you, the system is a thing of the past, serves government propaganda a.k.a. ruling party lines and is inherently leftist, sine qua non to all state media. But people revolt and the system will and has to change, until then, I enjoy the occasional queer piece — which, again, is the product of a privilege of people who don’t really have to work for money.

  • right_writes

    It might well be different if it were a subscription service Dan, similar things could be achieved if the content was well produced.

    But there isn’t a single channel, whether delivered by radio, TV or internet that is not fully infused with the “BBC view”.

    Oh, that view… Snowflake politics and a patronising attitude to us hapless ‘volunteered’ patrons.

    The example in this programme might be the continuous reference to FT’s ‘journey’ expressed in photographic terms… a somewhat silly addition that I don’t suppose the man ever really thought about.