The Pencil of Nature (Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art)

The Pencil of Nature: Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art, p. 3-13

I found Talbot’s book so interesting that I’ve decided to keep reading and making notes of it. I’ll be using the version of the book with images found in Project Gutenberg.

Notes & points of interest

  • Camera Lucida
  • ‘…the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus—fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away’ (p. 4)
  • ‘The picture…is but a succession or variety of stronger lights thrown upon one part of the paper, and of deeper shadows on another’ (p. 4)
  • ‘…what was required (it was now manifest) was, to have a deficiency of salt, in order to produce an imperfect chloride, or (perhaps it should be called) a subchloride of silver.’ (p. 7)
  • ‘…the publication in the mouth of January 1839, of the great discovery of M. Daguerre, of the photographic process which he has called the Daguerreotype.’ (p. 11)
  • Wedgwood and Sir H. Davy: ‘…first inventors of the Photographic Art, though the actual progress they made in it was small.’ (p. 11)
  • ‘…the year 1839 may fairly be considered as the real date of birth of the Photographic Art, that is to say, its first public disclosure to the world.’ (p. 12)


I didn’t know who Talbot was before reading his book and, much less, that he was one of the inventors of photography; I had only ever read about Daguerre and the daguerreotype. The use of the camera obscura and the camera lucida led artists to try and find a way to permanently, and perfectly, fix an image onto paper. As Talbot describes his various experiments with different chemicals, I can see just how scientific photography used to be even as he refers to it as the new Art.

Learning about the origin of photography makes me appreciate it much more and shows me just much it has evolved and changed. Because taking pictures today is so easy, it is equally as easy to take it for granted. Perhaps I could try and change this perception I have of photography and view it more as a medium to create art than as a separate, rather common, activity; perhaps I could regain my interest in it by being more experimental with it and combining it with other media.


Talbot, W. H. F. (1844) The Pencil of Nature. [online] At: (Accessed on 30 May 2017)




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