Last week, I visited Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, home of William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the negative/positive photographic process. I stood next to the window that became the subject of the first photographic negative, thinking that I should maybe take a picture of it but then remembering that I couldn’t because, strangely, photography wasn’t allowed in the house. One of the rooms contained, amongst the huge oil paintings adorning the walls, a framed history of the owners of the abbey since the 16th Century; it read ‘Talbot’ pretty much all the way along. Photography wasn’t the result hours of trial and error by the hard working hobbiest spending money they didn’t have. It was achieved by the society’s upper crust; those who had the time, the money, the acumen to refine the processes that others were working on before them. The photographic image had existed for a few decades before Talbot invented the negative, and the fact that he was the first is questioned by some. Furthermore, Talbot wasn’t exactly willing to set his discoveries free to the public; if you wanted to use his ‘Calotype’ process, you had to pay him up to £300 a year for the privilege.
Many fear the loss of traditional photographic processes and techniques; part of me does too. But then I see the digital process (capture and subsequent presentation using tools like Flickr) as the next step in the democratisation of photography that has been taking place over the last 100 years.