William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1877) Lace, early 1840s, salted paper print from a photogenic drawing negative, 8 15/16 x 7 3/8 in. (22.7 x 18.7 cm) image; 9 x 7 7/16 in. (22.9 x 18.8 cm) sheet Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Purchased with funds provided by The William Talbott Hillman Foundation. 2017

Carnegie Museum of Art presents exhibition of William Henry Fox Talbot Photographs

The largest Talbot show in years, will include 16 new acquisitions

William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography
November 18, 2017–February 11, 2018
Gallery One, Carnegie Museum of Art

Featuring more than 30 works by William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800–1877) and his circle from its own collection and from important public and private lenders, CMOA presents the largest US exhibition of Talbot’s photography in the last 15 years. In addition, 16 of the photographs on view will be recent acquisitions or promised gifts to the museum.

A group of people sitting and reclining in the grass. Behind them, stone wall with ivy and shrubs

William Henry Fox Talbot, Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, “The Fruit Sellers,” before December 13, 1845, salted paper print from a calotype negative, H: 6 11/16 x W: 8 1/4 in. image, Gift of the William Talbott Hillman Foundation

A true “gentleman scientist” of the Victorian period, Talbot combined his knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, and optics, with his interest in art, botany, and classics to invent the paper-based photography that dominated the field for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to the fragile nature of the photographs, exhibitions of Talbot’s work are rare. This represents the first time ever that any of these photographs will be on view in Pittsburgh.

Talbot’s first documented experiments from 1839 and 1840 consisted of “photogenic drawings,” what we now call photograms. Talbot would place an object directly on a piece of paper sensitized with silver salts and leave it to expose in the sun. The results are impressions of leaves, flowers, and pieces of lace that are beautiful compositions that have other potential uses. Talbot understood that these early photographs could produce a botanical drawing faster and more accurately than ever before, and could instantly and endlessly reproduce lace patterns to facilitate manufacturing during the boom of the Industrial Revolution. Two of CMOA’s recent acquisitions, Buckler Fern and Leaves and Flowers of a Plant were created during this time, and represent some of the first photographs on paper ever made.

In 1841, Talbot patented the “calotype” process, a direct precursor to the positive and negative in darkroom photography that persists today.  The calotype allowed for picture-making in low-light conditions and with shorter exposure times meaning that interiors and portraits were possible.  Talbot relished this expanded subject matter, making photographs around his Lacock Abbey estate of family and friends.  Eventually, he even brought his equipment abroad to make pictures in other parts of Britain and the European continent.

Talbot’s final innovations in photography entailed his incorporation of photographs into printed books.  The reproducibility of his calotypes—and his photoglyphic and photographic engravings which printed images in ink—represented an entirely new way of disseminating pictures. Contemporary photographers continue to grapple with capturing, fixing, and sharing an image in the digital era. As a result, Talbot’s work feels as relevant today as it did 175 years ago.

William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography is organized by Dan Leers, Curator of Photography at Carnegie Museum of Art.

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition will be accompanied by a beautiful, small-format book that serves as a primer on the work of William Henry Fox Talbot and his circle, featuring an introductory essay by curator Dan Leers and thematic groupings elucidated by noted Talbot scholar Larry Schaaf. With its luminous reproductions of Talbot’s fragile works, this publication demonstrates that early photography required a form of magic-making and innovation that continues to inspire people today.

Dan Leers, with contributions by Larry J. Schaaf
William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography
10 x 8 3/8 in.; Hardcover; 96 pages; 50 illustrations
Retail price: $25
Published by Carnegie Museum of Art
Available October 2017 from D.A.P./Artbook and the CMOA Store

Please visit press.cmoa.org for a selection of high-resolution images from the exhibition.

Support for the exhibition is generously provided by the William Talbott Hillman Foundation.

General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. The programs of the Heinz Architectural Center are made possible by the generosity of the Drue Heinz Trust. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Carnegie Museum of Art
Carnegie Museum of Art enriches people’s lives through art. The museum is committed to global engagement and regional advancement. We champion creativity and its importance to society with experiences that welcome, inspire, challenge, and inform. Our core activities—collecting, conserving, presenting, and interpreting works of art—make those experiences possible. Our world-class collection of over 30,000 works emphasizes art, architecture, photography, and design from the 19th century to the present. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. Learn more: call 412.622.3131 or visit cmoa.org.