A group of people recline in the grass outdoors in front of a stone wall.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, The Fruit Sellers (detail), before December 13, 1845, salted paper print from a calotype negative, Gift of the William Talbott Hillman Foundation

William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography

Gallery One

This is the largest US exhibition of Talbot’s photography in the last 15 years, featuring more than 30 works by William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800–1877) and his circle. In addition, 16 of the photographs on view are recent acquisitions or promised gifts to the museum.

A true “gentleman scientist” of the Victorian period, Talbot combined his knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, and optics, with his interest in art, botany, and classics to invent the paper-based photography that dominated the field for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to the fragile nature of the photographs, exhibitions of Talbot’s work are rare. This represents the first time ever that any of these photographs will be on view in Pittsburgh.

In 1841, Talbot patented the “calotype” process, a direct precursor to the positive and negative in darkroom photography that persists today.  The calotype allowed for picture-making in low-light conditions and with shorter exposure times meaning that interiors and portraits were possible.  Talbot relished this expanded subject matter, making photographs around his Lacock Abbey estate of family and friends.  Eventually, he even brought his equipment abroad to make pictures in other parts of Britain and the European continent.

William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography is organized by Dan Leers, Curator of Photography at Carnegie Museum of Art.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful, small-format book that serves as a primer on the work of William Henry Fox Talbot and his circle, featuring an introductory essay by curator Dan Leers and thematic groupings elucidated by noted Talbot scholar Larry Schaaf. With its luminous reproductions of Talbot’s fragile works, this publication demonstrates that early photography required a form of magic-making and innovation that continues to inspire people today.

Exhibition Images

A group of people recline in the grass outdoors. Behind them, a stone wall is covered with ivy and shrubs.
Sepia-toned image of the outline of a tree against the sky
View of a hexagonal tower, which broadens at its base to form a gatehouse. The stone building sits at the end of a street, framed with other stone buildings and a wall.
A Barouche Parked in the North Courtyard of Lacock Abbey (detail), April 1844, salt print from a calotype negative , The William T. Hillman Collection
Close-up view of lace patterns, composed of botanical patterns, leaves, flowers, sheaves of grain twisting around one another
Two leaves bright leaves stand out against a murky background in this very old photograph

Exhibition Credits

Support for the exhibition is generously provided by the William Talbott Hillman Foundation.