This image from Special Collections shows a ‘photogenic drawing’ of a plant. It was created in around 1839 by William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the negative/positive process of photography which he patented as the calotype process in 1841. His earlier experiments with what he called photogenic drawing created this unique negative which is among the oldest of this type of image surviving anywhere in the world.
Talbot’s photogenic drawing process worked by creating a layer of light sensitive silver chloride on paper. He then placed objects, including leaves, on the paper and exposed it to sunlight. This produced a light image of the object against a dark background. (The original of this negative is extremely faint and has been digitally enhanced for displaying online.)
‘Positive’ images were printed by placing the negative in contact with a similarly sensitised piece of paper and exposing it to sunlight until the image appeared. There is no indication that Talbot printed any images from this particular negative. The positive image shown here has been created digitally from the negative.
Perhaps someone will be able to help identify the type of plant for us…?
Special Collections also holds a copy of Talbot’s Pencil of Nature (1844), which was the first book with photographs to be published commercially. See our subject page for more information about our photography collections.
Categories: Special Collections