It is easy to get lulled into thinking that you know what a Talbot ‘should’ look like. And then he throws us a curve ball.
A mountain rivulet which flows at the base of Doune Castle, October 1844
What contemporary of Talbot, either through the use of a quill or the strokes of a watercolour brush, would have the bald courage to depict the scene in this fashion? We have seen this image in context before and and it is enough to make you believe in magic. This is a photograph that speaks to place, and time. And timelessness. It is not the snapshot that a tourist would have made, no matter how well read he or she had been. And it is not the type of commercial view that George W Wilson or James Valentine would have produced for sale. It is a highly personal statement – and a powerful one.
Henry Talbot can surprise in other ways.
What ‘early Victorian’ photographic portrait looks like this? Tightly framed, you cannot evade the penetrating glare of the viewer any more than he can evade yours. There are two known prints of this negative of an unidentified (yet familiar) man. The first is slightly larger and mounted in an album of twenty unusual portraits, although none of them as powerful as this. But then Talbot trimmed the negative even further to create this masterpiece. I wish that I could get Henry to do my own mugshot in this style.
Larry J Schaaf
• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at firstname.lastname@example.org • WHFT, A Mountain Rivulet which flows at the base of Doune Castle, salted paper print from a calotype negative, October 1844, private collection; Schaaf 17. • WHFT, Portrait of an unidentified man, digitially strengthened salted paper print from a calotype negative, ca. 1841-1843, National Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-1545, Schaaf 73.