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.

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

William Henry Fox Talbot, Trees in Winter, winter 1839/1840, salted paper print from a photogenic drawing negative, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of William Talbott Hillman

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.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Gate Below Tom Tower, Christ Church, Oxford, prior to September 1844, salted paper print from a calotype negative, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of the William Talbott Hillman Foundation

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Barouche Parked in the North Courtyard of Lacock Abbey, April 1844, salted paper print from a calotype negative, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of William Talbott Hillman

Close-up view of lace patterns, composed of botanical patterns, leaves, flowers, sheaves of grain twisting around one another

William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1877) Lace, early 1840s, salted paper print from a photogenic drawing negative, Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by The William Talbott Hillman Foundation

Two leaves bright leaves stand out against a murky background in this very old photograph

William Henry Fox Talbot, Black Cherry Leaves, likely 1839, photogenic drawing negative, The William Talbott Hillman Collection


Exhibition Credits

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