Victorian photography: what do I need to know?
Nicéphore Niépce first invented the crude original camera in the mid-1820s which required days of exposure to create a photographic image. This new medium allowed artists to venture into unchartered realms of realism in portraits. Photography also enabled Roger Fenton to capture the shattered and shell-shocked look of soldiers in the Crimean War, while others documented the harsh realities of life for the poor and exploited.
However, it was the invention of the salt print or ‘calotype’ by British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839 that really revolutionized the radical photographic medium.
What is salt printing?
Printed onto paper with salt, the salt print technique produced unusually strong lights and dark which carved curious abstract forms around the contours of these bold contrasts. Any movement was usually rendered as a smudge.
Word of these silvery British inventions spread internationally by enterprising practitioners and their popularity burned briefly but brightly in the West’s exploding visual economy.
Tate Britain exhibition: Wiliam Henry Fox Talbot
From the streets of London and Paris, to the ancient worlds of Egypt and India, this Tate exhibition revels in the ingenuity of the new medium of salt printing. Look out at this London photography exhibition for William Henry Fox Talbot’s shimmering photographs of chic Parisian streets, as well as his shots of other emblems of modernity such as Nelson’s Column while it was still under construction in 1844. A particularly soft snapshot that will catch your eye is Talbot's 7 year old daughter Ella and other Talbot works reveal his finger tips on the marked edges.
The classical world
Find time for August Salzmann’s studies of Greek sculpture and the fascinating images of the Parthenon, 15 years after independence in Greece, which illustrate the Victorians’ art historical obsession with the Ancient world and the forging of identity in relation to Imperial past. Campaigner for the return of the Elgin Marbles, Amal Clooney, would not be impressed...There are also some spectacular international examples of salt printing by Linnaeus Tripe and his images of Hindu temples.
Adventurers and archaeologists were also indulging in the new medium of salt printing, such as renowned travel photographer James Robertson. Don't miss the intense chiaroscuro of Robertson's images of the Pyramids at Gizeh and Base of the Obelisk of Theodosius, Constantinople.
You'll also be mesmerized by French photographer, Nadar's nude portrait of Marie Christine Leroux, the inspiration for the character of Musetta in Puccini's opera La Bohème, in the guide of the legendary model Phrynē on trial for impiety. Other photographs not to miss are the palpable personalities of Roger Fenton's portraits. A particularly striking image from Fenton's records of the Crimean War is the portrait of 23 year old Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards (1855). Suffering from extreme shell shock, Fenton strips the young, popular soldier of his heroic setting and reveals him as a vulnerable victim. There's even images of the American Civil War, the first conflict to be documented by photographs.
This momentary step back in time at the Tate Britain is a must-see photography exhibition in London this spring.
|What||Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860, Tate Britain|
|Where||Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Pimlico (underground)|
25 Feb 15 – 07 Jun 15, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Price||£12 for adults, £10.50 for concessions|
|Website||Click here to book tickets|