Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Sun Pictures of Lacock Abbey

Down the M4 with Eleanor for a look round the National Trust's Lacock Abbey and village. It's a strange and enchanting place, most recently used as a location on the Harry Potter films.

The Abbey itself is a quirky mix of styles and periods. A calming cloister, Georgian rooms and most interestingly some displays commemorating the work of the pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. The earliest calotype negative of an Oriel window was created here in 1835. Odd to think the first captured photograph was of something see through - both a tangible thing and a view.

Fox Talbot was also the first photographer to publish his photos in book form - a six installment series of pamphlets entitled The Pencil of Nature. He added this explanatory description to the introduction.

The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.

How amazing those initial discoveries must have been. Perhaps made even more so by the descriptions which accompany each image, which often explain in practical detail the role of the photograph as inventory. Was this science? Was this art? In the end Fox Talbot simply passed on the baton.

The chief object of the present work is to place on record some of the early beginnings of a new art, before the period, which we trust is approaching, of its being brought to maturity by the aid of British talent.

We went for a walk round the village spookily unspoilt by modern progress and sought refreshment in a perfectly preserved tea rooms. Fixed in time, as still and framed as anything captured on camera.

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