Two Plant Specimens

Pale silhouettes of two flowering branches.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Pale silhouettes of two flowering branches.

Date:

1839

Artist:

William Henry Fox Talbot
English, 1800–1877

About this artwork

Contained within this haunting and poetic image is the seed of photography: the possibility of creating a negative from which an unlimited number of positives can be made. William Henry Fox Talbot produced this image by placing botanical specimens on sensitized paper and exposing them to light. He made this groundbreaking discovery after his 1833 honeymoon on the shores of Lake Como, in Lombardy, Italy. Frustrated by his inability to draw his Italian surroundings accurately, Talbot recalled the fleeting images of external objects that appeared within a camera lucida (an optical prism that creates a superimposed image on an artist’s drawing surface) and wondered how he could make them “imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper.” What resulted, two years later, were the first camera negatives. Unveiled in 1839 and called photogenic drawing, Talbot’s process was perfected two years later into the calotype (from the Greek word kalos, meaning “beautiful”). By the end of his life, Talbot—whose far-ranging interests included mathematics, botany, etymology, and ancient Assyria—had also discovered the basis of halftone printing, obtained twelve patents, and authored seven books, including one of the first photographically illustrated books, The Pencil of Nature (1844).

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Photography

Artist

William Henry Fox Talbot

Title

Two Plant Specimens

Origin

England

Date

1839

Medium

Photogenic drawing

Dimensions

22.1 × 18 cm (8 11/16 × 7 1/8 in., image/paper); 29 × 21.5 cm (mount)

Credit Line

Edward E. Ayer Endowment in memory of Charles L. Hutchinson

Reference Number

1972.325

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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