September 2014, I visited Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, England for a month-long artist residency. Lacock Abbey is a historic museum preserved by the National Trust of the United Kingdom in order to celebrate the life and work of photographic inventor William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77).
Talbot’s experiments in the mid 1830’s, led him to discover the negative/positive photographic process, calotype. He made over 4,000 photographs on the grounds of his residence at Lacock Abbey. Talbot’s work (landscapes, architectural studies, still life and portraits) defined the art of photography. Examples and explanation of all photographic uses that he discovered appeared in his publication ‘The Pencil of Nature’. Published between 1844 and 1847; it was the first book to be illustrated entirely in photographs. Of among many of his talents, Talbot was also well known as a botanist. He acquired specimens of trees and plants from the world and used the land surrounding his abbey as a laboratory for his collections.
During my stay, I photographed the shimmering Wiltshire light as it filtered through Talbot’s orchards and forested gardens and took rubbings of the textural backdrop of the ancient abbey and it’s English medieval town. Talbot’s processes and environments inspired these series of prints.
Photographic processes incorporated into this body of work are cyanotype (invented 1842) and gum bi-chromate (invented 1839). Chosen due to their painterly approach akin to the processes that Talbot invented, both require hand coating a substrate with a chemical solution, contact printing a negative to the substrate, exposing both in UV light, developing then drying the print.
Rubbings on tracing paper of “the most iconic door” in the History of Photography (The Open Door), Talbot’s gravestone and cross sections of felled trees located on the Abbey property were used as negatives to artistically print to scale cyanotype images of their subjects.
The Specimen Series were digitally photographed with a tilt shift lens, creating blurred and vignetted edges around the focused part of the image. Digital negatives where then contact printed in 4-color gum bi-chromate on Rives BFK paper.
This work pays homage to Talbot the inventor and artist.
Support provided by:
Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, UK
The Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, a program of the Arts Council of Kalamazoo
Faculty Development Grant, Gwen Frostic School of Art, Western Michigan University
International Education Faculty Development Fund, Haenicke Institute, Western Michigan University