William Henry Fox Talbot invented photography’s first negative-positive process, which he termed the calotype, in 1839, but he initially did little to proselytize his discovery. In England, his patents on the paper negative hindered its use and development, and only a small circle of people closely associated with Talbot made calotypes in the first decade after their invention. In the spring of 1846, three photographers from this close circle—Reverend Calvert Jones, Reverend George Bridges, and Talbot’s cousin Kit Talbot—met on the Mediterranean island of Malta to hone their photographic skills, with Jones, the most experienced, acting as mentor.
This photograph demonstrates Jones’ sophisticated understanding of the new process of photography and of how the camera saw the world. Jones carefully positioned his camera next to a stone wall that dramatically recedes into the distance, thus drawing the viewer’s eye into the composition. He then waited until the moment when the light, glancing off the façade, softly described the sturdy Ionic columns and cast the doorway behind into mysterious shadow. With this careful attention to detail and his intuitive understanding of the expressive qualities of light, Jones created a scene full of quiet grace and elegance.
The photographers; William Henry Fox Talbot, Lacock Abbey, England; (Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Inc., New York, 1996); NGA purchase, 2007.
- Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 2007 - 2008, no. 73.
- In Light of the Past: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Collecting Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 3 – July 26, 2015