Research point The Pencil of Nature
Reading William Henry Fox Talbot’s introductory sections to The Pencil of Nature (1844 -1846) was a surprisingly moving experience. He describes his experiments with a camera obscura whilst visiting Lake Como in Italy, and his moment of inspiration.
He writes, “….how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible? I asked myself”.
His determination and ongoing patient experiments with light, chemicals and paper touched me deeply as I give so little thought to the inventors of those things which I now take for granted.
Talbot eventually invented the Calotype ( a Greek word meaning beautiful picture) and this was the first method which allowed printed copies to be made.
Do I see photography as mechanical or creative? Can any process be both? Yes, I do believe that any process can be both and photography is a good example of this. The more one understands the “mechanics” of light and shade, the fact that light travels in a straight line, and that light can be manipulated, the more one can work creatively with photography.
One of Talbot’s images, as pictured here, is of a simple broom resting diagonally across an open doorway. In The Pencil of Nature Talbot describes the creation of this image as “…the early beginnings of a new art” . The image shows the inner and outer aspects of what appears to be a barn. The eye is led from the bright light in the foreground into the darker interior and then towards the filtered light through the shuttered windows. Talbot clearly positioned the door and the broom and waited for the precise moment that the light offered the best contrasts and an opportunity for his Calotype. For me this is the work of an artist.
The diagonal broom is almost a barrier to the room beyond, but its lines are mirrored by the diagonal shadow on the invitingly open door. I see this as the play between light and dark, life and death, the threshold. I realise the Talbot was influenced by the artists he admired and that his choice of subject matter was about everyday objects at a time when this was unconventional.
So, again, can any process be both mechanical and creative – certainly. I think creativity is the ability to see connections and to work intuitively. If I consider the mechanical aspect to be about design, this is more of a problem solving approach but probably requires similar processes that would include research and experimentation. Talbot is a great example of the interdependence of the mechanical and creative.