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Pencil of Nature (Book Review)

The Pencil of Nature

You can buy The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot from Amazon or you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg. The book was written between 1844 – 1846 in six installments and was the first commercial book that had photographs.

William Henry Fox Talbot invented a process to print images onto paper through a series of personal experimentation into chemicals and light over the previous decade. During this time Louis Daguerre and Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (published in January, 1839) independently revealed an entirely different process of producing photographic images… the daguerreotype. These two forks at the very beginning are what we would consider the birth of photography in the modern sense.

‘The Pencil of Nature’ offers a brief introduction of Fox Talbot’s experiments that led to several crucial discoveries including photographic developer and fixer. He also spent time experimenting with the effects of various light and times of the day in the field to offer a rudimentary analysis where photographers could jump off and explore the medium. This book contains 24 photographic plates and text with an explanation of each scene and the processes that led to the photograph being achieved. These plates include iconic images that stand today as strong photographic work in their own right – Plate VI. The Open Door; Plate X. The Haystack; and, Plate XIV. The Ladder. It is an awe inspiring thing to consider the time these photographs were taken and the newness of the technologies and concepts in human experience.

It was a time when the common man had never been able to view their ancestors – painted portraits were for the rich. It was a time when concepts like focus and aperture were strange and magical. It was a time when suddenly you didn’t have to have the money to go see the Great Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower; suddenly, thrust into society, was a technological mechanism to capture time.

The most important reason to read the Pencil of Nature (and it’s only a small book mostly of images) is to increase your own photographic literacy. Photography is the study of light upon the lens… anybody can take pictures but once you appreciate that relationship you can start to consider making images. I really hope you enjoy reading Fox Talbot’s book.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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