Henry Fox Talbot Biography
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: William Henry Fox Talbot, William Fox Talbot
Born in: Dorset
Famous as: Inventor
Spouse/Ex-: Constance Fox Talbot
father: William Davenport Talbot
mother: Elisabeth Fox Strangways
place of death: Lacock
discoveries/inventions: Photographic Engraving, Calotype, Photoglyphic Engraving
education: Trinity College, Cambridge, Harrow School
awards: 1842 - Rumford Medal
1838 - Royal Medal
William Henry Fox Talbot was a British scientist and photography pioneer best known for inventing the salted paper and calotype processes. He was a true polymath with interests in myriad subjects like chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, classics, and art history, though he ultimately achieved fame as a pioneer in the field of photography which was still in its infancy in the mid-19th century. His invention, the photographic process of calotype was an improvement over the daguerreotype of the French inventor L.J.M. Daguerre. Talbot was the first to have developed the photographic negative, from which multiple prints could be made. During the 1840s he worked extensively on photomechanical reproduction which led to the development of the photoglyphic engraving process. Intelligent and curious from a young age, he developed interests in a variety of subjects as a boy. After completing his education from the prestigious Trinity College, Cambridge, he wrote several papers which he submitted to the Royal Society. Artistically inclined with a passion for chemistry he embarked on a series of experiments in photography. Over the next few years he made several important contributions to the field of photography, of which the most significant ones were the invention of the salted paper and photographic negative. He was awarded by the Royal Society for his photographic discoveries
- William Henry Fox Talbot was born on 11 February, 1800, in Melbury, Dorset, England as the only child of William Davenport Talbot and his wife Lady Elisabeth Fox Strangways. His family was a well-connected one.
- His father died when the boy was still a baby. He lived in a succession of homes with his single mother until she remarried in 1804.
- He was a bright young boy and was blessed with an innate curiosity and love for learning. He received his primary education from the Harrow School in Rottingdean. He went to study at the prestigious Trinity College, Cambridge after completing his schooling. There he received the Porson prize in Classics in 1820.
- Following his graduation from the Trinity in 1821, he started submitting his papers to the Royal Society. Many of his papers were on mathematical subjects though he also had a keen interest in the sciences and also wrote articles on astronomy and physics.
- He was a polymath with varied interests in different fields. He had an artistic bent of mind and developed a fascination with photography, a field which was in the early stages of its development in that era and offered much scope for experimentation and discoveries.
- He began his optical researches as a young man and contributed a paper titled ‘Some Experiments on Coloured Flame’ to the ‘Edinburgh Philosophical Journal’ in 1826 and a paper on ‘Monochromatic Light’ to the ‘Quarterly Journal of Science’ in 1827. He also wrote several papers on chemical subjects for the ‘Philosophical Magazine’.
- While visiting the Lake Como in Italy in 1833 he tried to sketch the scenery but failed to capture its beauty. So he began to think of a machine which could capture images on light-sensitive paper. He set to work on this project upon his return home.
- He briefly served in Parliament (1833–34) and spent much of the 1830s in experimenting in photography. He created the “salt paper” by wetting a sheet of paper with a solution of ordinary table salt which he brushed with a strong solution of silver nitrate upon drying. This made the paper light sensitive and it darkened when exposed to light.
- He went on to develop a photographic process which he called Calotype. This method, which used paper coated with silver iodide, was considered to be an improvement over the process of daguerreotype developed earlier by Daguerre. He had this process patented in 1841.
- His work, ‘The Pencil of Nature’ (1844–46), published in six installments, is regarded as an important and influential work in the history of photography. It was the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs. He was also the author of several other works, including ‘English Etymologies’ (1846).
- In spite of being a brilliant polymath, Talbot achieved the maximum fame as a pioneer in photography. He invented the salted paper through a series of experiments and this paper, which darkened where it was exposed to light, could be used to create images known as “salt prints”.
- Another one of his major inventions was the Calotype—also known as talbotype after him—an early photographic process that produced a translucent original negative image from which multiple positives could be made by simple contact printing.
- In 1838, he received a Royal Medal in mathematics “For his papers entitled Researches in the Integral Calculus, published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1836 and 1837."
- Talbot received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society for his photographic discoveries in 1842.
- Henry Fox Talbot married Constance Mundy in 1832 and had four children: Ela, Rosamond, Matilda, and Charles.
- William Henry Fox Talbot was plagued by ill health during his later years and died on 17 September 1877, at the age of 77.
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