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Archive for July 20th, 2009

July 20th, 2009 • Posted in On The Book

The Pencil of Nature: first photo illustrated Book

Henry Talbot is best remembered as an inventor of photography.

On the phone this morning with Stephen Stinehour; he informed me that among Talbot’s earliest photo subjects….

V&A Museum


William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) 
The Pencil of Nature
Plate VIII, A Scene in a Library
Salted-paper print from a paper negative
London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1844
Museum no. L.149-1939

"The Pencil of Nature was one of the very first photographically illustrated books. To make ‘A Scene in a Library’, he arranged the books outdoors, where the light was stronger than it would have been in his actual library."

This from a site called The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot:


"During a recess of Parliament in October 1833, he had his famous intellectual breakthrough. In the company of his sisters and his new wife on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como, he found himself in the frustrating position of being the only one in the group unable to sketch the scenery. The camera lucida (a drawing instrument unrelated to photography) was of no assistance. As he explained in the introduction to the Pencil of Nature in 1844: "when the eye was removed from the prism – in which all had looked beautiful – I found that the faithless pencil had only left traces on the paper melancholy to behold." A decade before, also in Italy, Talbot had tried to sketch using the common artist’s tool, the camera obscura, but with no better success. This led him to "reflect on the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus – fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away… the idea occurred to me… 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 thus was the concept of photography born."

Talbot could not conduct his experiments while travelling and was immediately plunged back into Parliamentary duties upon returning to England. At Lacock Abbey, sometime later – in spring of 1834 – he began to convert his dream into reality. By coating ordinary writing paper with alternate washes of table salt and silver nitrate, Talbot embedded a light-sensitive silver chloride in the fibres of the paper. Placed in the sun under an opaque object such as a leaf, the paper would darken where not defended from light, producing a photographic silhouette. Talbot called the resulting negatives (a term devised later, by Sir John Herschel) sciagraphs – drawings of shadows" 


July 20th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

TNQ has a new Blog

From Facebook:

"The Literary Type ( is a brand-new blog by and for people obsessed with the written word. If you met your spouse in a library, have strong feelings about the serial comma, or your collection of CanLit outweighs you — you’re one of us. Here you’ll find mini-versions of what you’d find in the print The New Quarterly (author interviews, talk about the craft and the writing life, art that explores the intersection of word and image) but also all kinds of literary delights we can’t fit in the print edition."