“I do not claim to have perfected an art but to have commenced one, the limits of which it is not possible at present exactly to ascertain.”
William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat of Edinburgh, May 1864.
William Henry Fox Talbot (11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877) was an English scientist, inventor and photography pioneer who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, precursors to photographic processes of the later 19th and 20th centuries. His work, in the 1840s on photomechanical reproduction, led to the creation of the photoglyphic engraving process, the precursor to photogravure. He was the holder of a controversial patent that affected the early development of commercial photography in Britain. He was also a noted photographer who contributed to the development of photography as an artistic medium. He published The Pencil of Nature (1844–46), which was illustrated with original salted paper prints from his calotype negatives, and made some important early photographs of Oxford, Paris, Reading, and York.
The Pencil of Nature
Cover of The Pencil of Nature, 1844
The book detailed Talbot’s development of the calotype process and included 24 calotype prints, each one pasted in by hand, illustrating some of the possible applications of the new technology. Since photography was still very much a novelty and many people remained unfamiliar with the concept, Talbot felt compelled to insert the following notice into his book:
“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.”
The cover page for The Pencil of Nature clashed designs, which was characteristic of the Victorian era, with styles inspired by baroque, Celtic, and medieval elements. Its symmetrical design, letterforms, and intricate carpet pages are similar to and a pastiche of the Book of Kells.
The Pencil of Nature was published and sold one section at a time, without any binding (as with many books of the time, purchasers were expected to have it bound themselves once all the installments had been released). Talbot planned a large number of installments; however, the book was not a commercial success and he was forced to terminate the project after completing only six.
Charles Nègre (9 May 1820 – 16 January 1880) was a pioneering photographer, born in Grasse, France. He studied under the painters Paul Delaroche, Ingres and Drolling before establishing his own studio at 21 Quai Bourbon on the Île Saint-Louis, Paris.
Delaroche encouraged the use of photography as research for painting; Nègre started with the daguerreotype process before moving on to calotypes. His “Chimney-Sweeps Walking”, an albumen print taken on the Quai Bourbon in 1851, may have been a staged study for a painting, but is nevertheless considered important to photographic history for its being an early instance of an interest in capturing movement and freezing it forever in one moment.
The interesting shapes in his 1852 photograph of buildings in Grasse have caused it to be seen as a precursor to art photography. In 1859, he was commissioned by Empress Eugénie to photograph the newly established Imperial Asylum in the Bois de Vincennes, a hospital for disabled workingmen.
He used both albumen and salt print, and was known also as a skilled printer of photographs, using a gravure method of his own development. A plan commissioned by Napoleon III to print photographs of sculpture never came to fruition, and in 1861 Nègre retired to Nice, where he made views and portraits for holiday makers. He died in Grasse in 1880.
Working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration, Lange’s images brought the plight of the poor and forgotten—particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers—to public attention.Distributed free to newspapers across the country, Lange’s poignant images became icons of the era.
One of Lange’s most recognized works is Migrant Mother . The woman in the photograph is Florence Owens Thompson. In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:
“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet.I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions.I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction.I did not ask her name or her history.She told me her age, that she was thirty-two.She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed.She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.There was a sort of equality about it. “
Lange took seven photos that day, in the course of ten minutes. The last being the famous Migrant Mother .These are the six other photos:
The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken. Extended captions and supplementary textual files relating to this series in the FSA Written Records have not been found.
After Lange returned home, she told the editor of a San Francisco newspaper about conditions at the camp and provided him with two of her photographs.The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included the images.In response, the government rushed aid to the camp to prevent starvation.
The woman in the famous Migrant Mother after many years, 1979
Florence Thompson (seated) with three of her daughters, (from L. to R.) Katherine, Ruby, and Norma, in 1979—43 years after Migrant Mother
Ronis’ wife, the Communist militant painter Marie-Anne Lansiaux (1910–91), was the subject of his well-known 1949 photograph, Nu provençal (Provençal nude).The photograph, taken in a house that Marie-Anne and he had just bought in Gordes , showed Marie-Anne washing at a basin with a water pitcher on the floor and an open window through which the viewer can see a garden, this is noted for its ability to convey an easy feeling of Provençal life.
“We had a little stone cottage at Gordes. It was a hot summer, and I was repairing the attic. I needed a trowel, so I came down and there was Marie-Anne standing naked on the stone flags, washing herself from the tin basin. ‘Don’t move,’ I said and, my hands full of plaster, I grabbed my Rolleiflex and took four shots. It was the second shot which I chose.
It took two minutes in all. Miracles exist, I experienced it. I have never been so anxious as when I developed that film. I felt that, if the image was good, technically and aesthetically, it would be a major moment in my life, a prosaic moment of extraordinary poetry.”
* Willy Ronis’ contact sheet of his image “Le Nu Provencal”
The photograph was a “huge success”; Ronis would comment, “The destiny of this image, published constantly around the world, still astonishes me.”
Later in her life, he photographed Marie-Anne suffering from Alzheimer’s disease , sitting alone in a park surrounded by autumn trees.
Craigie Horsfield (born 1949 in Cambridge) is an English photographer. In 1996 he was nominated for the annual Turner Prize.
Horsfield described his work (photographs of the environments and people around him) as, “intimate in scale but its ambition is, uncomfortable as I find it, towards an epic dimension, to describe the history of our century, and the centuries beyond, the seething extent of the human condition.” He often prints the photographs many years after they were first taken, bringing into contrast memory and the present reality.
His work was shown in Documenta XI, Kassel in 2002 and the Whitney Biennial in 2003.