Following on from the F2F in Falmouth I felt that I needed more inspiration. So I took a trip to one of the founding homes of photography – Lacock Abbey.
After reading all about Henry Fox Talbot and his work in the very infancy of photography, I wanted to walk around the Abbey and try to experience Talbot’s gaze for myself.
I first visited the village and was surprised at the history and level of recognisable filming locations I could sport. Then I moved on to the museum of photography.
I found the museum to be of interest initially, with several examples of original photographic equipment on offer and descriptions of how the medium was developed all those years ago.
I did find however that the museum collection focused very much on the technical and the engineering principles behind the development of photography. While this was very interesting and indeed a significant factor in understanding the medium, I did find the lack of contextualization put a distance between the exhibits and the true nature of the image creation.
I did feel that had the collection included the metaphoric and the subjective within the collections timeline; it could have lead to a more solid grounding of where the practice has originated from and its teachings.
At this point, I decided instead to consider the Abbey as if Talbot himself was walking around with me. I chose to look for the scenes he once gazed upon and to attempt to recreate those as best I could, as a mark of respect to one of the forefathers of photography.
My next port of call was “What is lost…What has been” an exhibition by John Paul Evans focusing on the absurdity of the wedding portrait.
The exhibition had a clear narrative – Within each of these four series of photographs by John Paul Evans unfolds a unique tale.
‘They imagine John Paul and his husband, Peter in situations ranging from perfect domestic bliss to reinterpretation of words meant to wound and reminding us of more innocent meanings, creating a world of magic.’
I found the exhibition to be very informative around the use of narrative to set the scene for the works. I also felt the works conveyed a powerful sense of emotive presence. I have photographed a few weddings for friends, and I could see the irony within the posed images that captured the emotion and tension of wedding and domestic situations.
This for me was further proof of the developing narrative and how it coordinates the visual story.
I moved on from the exhibition and to the main house. It was this location that I had most looked forward to seeing.
I found the Abbey to be much more emotive than I expected. A very grand building with many of the larger ground floor spaces empty, yet a strange feeling of familiar and a homely sense none the less.
My first ‘find’ was an unexpected one. Firefoot – the rocking horse at Lacock Abbey, was on display and still (more or less) as its original appearance in 1851.
Talbot captured the image in Figure 4 as part of an album which he presented to his daughter, Matilda, 25 February 1851.
This for me was very compelling as it shows how already at such an early stage, photography as a means to tell a story or create a memory had already been recognised.
In such an early form, however, such a contextualization may not have been as apparent; instead, it would have been more of a marvel of the modern scientific process which instigated the gift, rather than a will to create a memory.
As I walked further I came to Talbots original office, where much of his Imagineering and inventing took place.
I stood and observed the scene for some time, taking in all of the details. I could almost sense Talbot walking around his office considering his next idea, or working on his cameras.
This was a real moment for me, as it has taken what is a contextual media studied as part of my MA and pushed into reality, with Talbots own tools of his trade physically visible.
This suddenly made all of the teachings and studies of the medium very real to me.
I wanted to find the original Oriel Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, where Talbot took the first images. This for me proved to offer a challenge around rephotographing the same scene. I had wanted to try this for some time, and this proved to be a perfect opportunity.
After some attempts and waiting for a lull in the crowd, I managed to get my camera in about the same location as Talbots. I am taking into account the size of the camera and different lenses. A mockup of Talbots is shown below.
Overall I was pleased with the result, given the hectic conditions within the house. I was very struck by the whole scene and could imagine Talbot spending a considerable length of time walking around the house looking for the perfect spot for his camera obscura.
I can relate a lot to that as I wander around the river path looking for spots that provide views and observations. I could see why Talbot chose that location. The position of the old fireplace right opposite the Oriel Window gave the perfect angle. The light would change all through the day so the best conditions could be observed and the ability to leave the camera for varying lengths of time.
I could sense Talbots excitement and frustration as he must have attempted the scene on multiple occasions. The note that he wrote with the original print was also very emotive.
My final aim for the day was to recreate the exterior shot Talbot made of the Tower of Lacock Abbey.
Due to the number of visitors on the day, I did find this a challenge, but it did give me a good lesson on how to go about locating the spot the original image was taken.
Neither the less this also gave me first-hand insight into what Talbot was doing and thinking when he created the original image.
Taking a more objective view of the Abbey, Talbot may well have been seeking out scenes with contrast and angle that his camera obscura could pick out. The angles on the tower and the building clearly show this was one location he had considered.
Although conducting a scientific experiment, effectively, I can not help but wonder if there was also some subjective approaches being made. Its an almost natural reaction when holding a camera to seek out forms and shapes. Perhaps Talbot, knowingly or not, was deliberately looking to achieve aesthetical as well as scientific results in his work.
We may never know the truth to this, but one thing is for sure I found the whole experience a sea change for my practice and one that has altered my view of Talbot from a contextualised historical character to someone who is not that far off being like me and my photographic practice.
- EVANS, John, Paul. 2019. John Paul Evans at the Fox Talbot Museum. [online] National Trust. Available at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/john-paul-evans-at-the-fox-talbot-museum [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
- EVANS, John, Paul. n.d.. http://www.johnpaulevans.co.uk. [online] Johnpaulevans.co.uk. Available at: http://www.johnpaulevans.co.uk/1-the%20visitors/the%20visitors.html [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
- Figure 1 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Lacock Abbey Photography Museum. [Photograph]
- Figure 2 – National Trust. 2019.The gallery at the Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock.
- [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 3 – EVANS, John, Paul. 1998. Becoming Mr & Mrs Andrews. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 4 – TALBOT, Henry, Fox. 1851. Firefoot – the rocking horse at Lacock Abbey. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 5 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Firefoot – the rocking horse at Lacock Abbey. [Photograph]
- Figure 6 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Lacock Abbey. [Photograph]
- Figure 7 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Lacock Abbey. [Photograph]
- Figure 8 – TALBOT, Henry, Fox. 1835 The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 9 – JONES, Rob. 2019. The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey. [Photograph]
- Figure 10 – JONES, Rob. 2019. The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Fireplace position of Talbots original camera, Lacock Abbey. [Photograph]
- Figure 11 – TALBOT, Henry, Fox. 1835 The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 12 – TALBOT, Henry,Fox. 1835 The Tower of Lacock Abbey, Lacock Abbey. [Photograph] (source media)