Thursday, 5 July 2012

Fox Talbot Would be Proud   

One of the most interesting challenges of living history museums is to find ways to take our visitors back to earlier times and places.  Interestingly, sometimes one of the most effective ways to do this is to bring the past into the present day.  David White is just one of our volunteers who has been doing just that with remarkable success.

David is passionate about photography and works almost exclusively in historical processes.  He's a notable figure in the village, most often seen partially obscured under the black cloth hood of his large format, 1890s wood and bellows view camera.  Carefully composing his subject on a ground glass screen, he exposes the film onto a simple silver-chloride emulsion; one remarkably similar to that used at the dawn of photography.  His home brew developer recipes go back almost as far.

For David, the most exciting magic of his process is in the making of paper prints from these negatives.  He makes his paper in exactly the same way W. Henry Fox Talbot did in 1839, when he invented photography.  Ordinary paper is brushed with salt and silver solutions, making them light sensitive.  The negatives are then placed in contact with the paper and, at a leisurely pace, and right before your eyes, sunlight turns the negative into a positive.  To halt the process, and make them permanent, the images are fixed, washed and dried.

Talbot's salted paper printing method produces photographs of a surprising tonal range. David can control the final outcome by choosing papers of varying textures, and altering the salt compounds used.  With so many variables, a final, successful print is all the more precious, and the handmade nature of the printing paper means that no two prints will ever be the same.  David says, "Talbot's own photographic prints from the 1840s remain as some of the most beautiful ever made." 

In a fun project this spring, David engaged long-time Westfield volunteer and woodworker Al to custom build a large format camera that takes negatives up to 20 x 24 inches in size.  The beautiful monster has been christened Queen Victoria.

Below are just some of the beautiful images David has recently produced at Westfield.  We sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm and unique skills that David brings to our site, and are very excited about what is to come.

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