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[1800 – 1877] English scientist and inventor of photography

Englishman, landowner, author of various important inventions also of true photographic (negative/positive) technique called calotype, photographer, also scientist and politician..

Born in Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. At the age of 11 he was sent to Harrow where he published his first book “The flora and fauna of Harrow” in 1812. Soon he showed some mathematic talents and ability to quick learn foreign languages. In 1817 he began studies in Cambridge where he was distinguished with awards for his knowledge in mathematics, chemistry and botany.Having completed his studies he spent several years in Switzerland and Italy and then returned to Lacock Abbey to manage the inherited estate. There he also involved himself in political activity what resulted in being elected a Member of Parliament for Chippenham. Got married at the age of 32 and about the same time he began scientific experiments with spectrography i.e. a method to identify chemical elements by color of radiation generated when they are heated. There were also experiments carried out with obtaining and making permanent negative images obtained by putting leaves and other things on sensitive paper and exposing them to direct sunlight. The paper was previously sensitized by saturation with silver nitrate solution and then soaked in table salt solution to form silver chloride, a light-sensitive compound. Further test were made with the paper exposed in camera obscuras. At first, these were simple wooden cameras of his own design called ‘mouse traps’ by his wife, equipped with glass lens. The first existing permanent negative obtained that way in 1835 of the Oriel Window was the size of a postage stamp and is kept in the Science Museum of London. Soon he also discovered that that copying the negative image onto a sensitized paper produces positive image. The terms “positive” and “negative” were invented by Sir John Herschel with whom Talbot was in constant contact and whom he reported results of experiments.


For the invention of calotype Talbot received  patent in 1840. In further years he has made some other scientific works and inventions – e.g. coloring and coating metallic surfaces, paper on reflecting telescope. In 1843, after 3-year practice and mastering the calotype process, together with some other persons he established a Studio in Reading (halfway from Lacock to London) and began producing and selling prints of ancients and landscape scenes taken in Europe by men who traveled throughout the continent and used to collaborate with Talbot. However, the most important Talbot’s project made at Reading was publishing The Pencil of Nature, the first book in the world illustrated with photographs. Issued were 6 volumes of the publication, with stock varying from 286 copies (first volume) to 86 copies of the sixth one.

The Reading Establishment existed until 1847. After that time Talbot returned to his other interests – photoengraving, motive power, mathematics and translations of Assyrian cuneiform. He died in 1877 in his family home at Lacock Abbey.

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