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William Henry Fox Talbot

Photographer: Antoine François Jean Claudet (1797 - 1867)

'Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot, c.1844'

Antoine Claudet’s Adelaide Gallery was one of the earliest most successful daguerreotype studios in London in the 1840s and it was here that he made several portraits of Henry Talbot. 

Despite considering Talbot’s calotype process an inferior vehicle for portraiture, the two photographers maintained a friendly relationship and in 1844 even entered into a short-lived partnership in an unsuccessful attempt to popularise the calotype in the portrait market.

Ironically, of the surviving portraits of Talbot, the most successful are those taken by the rival daguerreotype process.

Daguerreotype process

Announced in Paris in 1839, the daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process. 

The daguerreotype image was created on a silvered metal plate exposed to iodine fumes, forming a light-sensitive surface of silver iodide. Development was achieved by exposing the plate to fumes of heated mercury and the image fixed in a salt solution. This produced an image of remarkable sharpness. Unlike competing processes, each daguerreotype was unique. This proved to be the major factor in its demise, compared to Talbot's own negative-positive processes, from which unlimited copies could be made.

Geoff Dyer comments:

‘One day I would like to curate an exhibition of photographs of photographers. Generally speaking we are more interested in what they see than what they look like… A photograph of a photographer by a well-known photographer is doubly interesting, because of who it is of and who it is by.

The same cannot be said of this photograph of William Henry Fox Talbot. It is quite uninteresting except by virtue of who/what it shows but my imagined exhibition would start with this picture by someone who, thanks to the medium’s in-built tendency to authorial anonymity, has become the inventor of photography.’

Brian May & Elena Vidal comment:

‘This is an extraordinary photograph for many different reasons. It is a beautiful daguerreotype, the work of Antoine Claudet, pioneer commercial photographer, inventor and visionary. Claudet was a student of Louis Daguerre himself, the originator of this process, one of the first successful ways of permanently capturing an image.

But the subject of this photograph is none other than Henry Fox Talbot, the father of the other great photographic breakthrough of the age - the calotype. In a sense, therefore, in this unique moment, the photographer and his subject were rivals. This is an affectionate portrait…so this image reminds us that these men who were rivals in technique were also friends.’

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