William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) is a key figure in the history of photography: was one of the first inventors of various photographic processes and established the basic principle of photography as a negative/positive process.

Talbot was elected to the Royal Society in 1831 for his work on integral calculations and researched in optics, chemistry, electricity and other subjects such as etymology and ancient history.

In 1832 he married Constance Mundy and the same year he was elected mp for Chippenham. In 1833, when he visited Lake Como in Italy, he made unsuccessful attempts to sketch the landscape. The fact that it was so difficult for him made him dream of a new machine with light-sensitive paper that would automatically make the sketches for him. When he returned to England, he began working on this project at his home in Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire.

William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat of Edinburgh, May 1864.
John Moffat / Public domain

In 1834, five years before the public announcement of the daguerreotype, Talbot developed a process that gave a negative picture of sensitized paper. The negative could then be used to create several positive photographs through contact development. The Latticed Window in Lacock Abbey, one of Talbot's photographs, taken in August 1835, is the oldest known negative still to be found. Talbot was a man with many interests so he improved his method a bit over time, took some pictures when it suited him.

In early 1839, he discovered that Louis Daguerres had applied for a patent for his invention, the daguerreotype. The application was announced in early January 1839 and Talbot got into a patent dispute. Daguerre did not specify any details about what his method meant, therefore Talbot claimed that he was the first to develop images since he had begun experiments in early 1834. At a meeting at the Royal Institution in London on 25 January 1839, Talbot presented several paper photographs he had made in 1835. Within two weeks, he was able to describe his process in terms of the Royal Society, followed by more complete details a few weeks later. Daguerre did not reveal any useful details until mid-August, although it was already clear in the spring that his process and talbots were very different.

In September 1840, Talbot made another important breakthrough when he discovered that invisible or "latent" images were formed on sensitized paper even after relatively short exposure times. These images can be made visible or "induced" if treated with chemicals. By inventing the processes needed to make latent images visible and "fix" them so that they do not fade, Talbot contributed to the development of photography later being developed.

Talbot's later work focused on photomechanical reproduction methods. Mass production became easier and much cheaper, transferring a photograph to ink on paper made the images last much longer, ink was known to be permanent for hundreds if not thousands of years. Previous methods had problems with bleaching which had quite quickly become apparent for early types of silver paper. Talbot created the photoglycfa (or "photoglycptic") engraving process later enhanced by others like photoengraving.

Sources
:BBC: William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877)[WWW 2020-04-04]
Daniel, M. (2004) William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) and the Invention of Photography. The Metropolitan Museum of Ar
tWikipedia: Henry Fox Talbot[WWW 2020-04-04]

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