Talbot's Pencil of Nature, Invention and Ruin

Led by Chitra Ramalingam and Aniko Bezur
Tuesday, September 24, 1:30 - 4:30 PM

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) announced his invention of paper-based photography in January 1839. His vision for the expressive and utilitarian capabilities of the new medium were recorded in the Pencil of Nature, the first photo-illustrated publication produced between 1844 and 1846. Talbot’s expansive ambition for this work dimmed as the prints faded soon after publication. This profound transformation, which catalyzed generations of image stability research, has never been fully explained. Starting in the fall of 2018, Yale’s Center for British Art and Institution of the Preservation of Cultural Heritage have embarked on an initiative to understand the chemical and physical properties of the Pencil of Nature. This work seeks both an explanation for the sudden fading of the prints but, more importantly, to understand what the prints have become and what they are turning into. The seminar will provide a review of work to date, including discoveries regarding the sensitivity to light and ultraviolet radiation. Further, the seminar also will provide a forum for a broader discussion of the understanding and interpretation of deterioration that confront existing norms of “acceptable” condition.


Program Information
Return to Material Immaterial: Photographs in the 21st Century program.