The Birth of Sun Paintings
Uploaded by absynthe on Oct 03, 2004
Between 1844-6, William Henry Fox Talbot used the title The Pencil of Nature for his set of published prints which featured images of botanical specimens, photograms, still life and landscapes. Photography was very young at the time of the Pencil of Nature; this set being the first published photographically illustrated book. Talbot first investigated the usage of the camera obscura and camera lucida to aid his sketches by tracing the image projected onto the paper through the prism; “it was his inability to draw which caused him to experiment with a mechanical method of capturing and retaining an image” (Leggat, 2000). Through his want to record the everyday beautiful without the need of an artistically skilful hand, came his procession into photography. Talbot saw the results of his investigations not as a collection of random images, but “the possibilities he saw for photography, including pictorial, scientific and technical usages” (Marshall, 2004). Talbot had a scientific outlook and sensational enthusiasm for his calotypes, a paper process which he invented. He saw them as successful outcomes of his intention to fix the image he saw, exactly as he saw it without “the recourse of the artist’s pencil” (Scharf, p14), but only for a very short time without a fixative. He was recorded in the Fox Talbot Museum as having problems with the salt print fading rapidly, “how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed upon the paper”. The problem of the disappearing image was later solved by Sir John Herschel’s invention of fixative.
From the plates of the Pencil of Nature, two images that I believe to illustrate the title well are Flowers Leaves and Stem, and Transverse Section of a Stem. The image Flowers Leaves and Stem is a botanical photogram, showing the form of flowers and plants. Talbot did this print by placing leaves and flowers onto paper soaked in sodium nitrate and sodium chloride, making it light sensitive, and positioning it in direct sunlight. After chemical development, the final image is a drawing of flora by the sun. Detail can be seen in some parts of the image where the light has penetrated single petals, offering the subscribers of the Pencil of Nature a slightly different view into the botanical, as the more...