23/06/2011

MORE WINDOWS AT LACOCK ABBEY...

Whilst visiting Lacock Abbey, and under the stern gaze of William Henry Fox Talbot, the VV pulled out her own new-fangled camera and took a few pictures of some windows in and around the grounds of what was once the scientist's home...

commencing with the oriel window which featured in Fox Talbot's earliest photographic experiments...


and then moving on to others as she strolled in the grounds around the house...


from various different  angles...


and finding this one particularly quaint...


and this one distinctly ecclesiastical  - but then Lacock Abbey had once been a monastery.

For related posts, please see:
A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC REALISED

THE VICTORIAN ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY
WHEN THE PAST IS AS REAL AS THE PRESENT

22/06/2011

'A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC REALISED'...

Fern - Sun Print or Photogram created by William Henry Fox Talbot


Having been thinking once again about the history of photography, the VV took herself off on a visit to the village of Lacock Abbey where the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography commemorates the life and pioneering work of William Henry Fox Talbot.




William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was a prodigiously intelligent child who, having been born into a wealthy family, was able to leave university and then continue the study of those many subjects that interested him -  including mathematics,  astronomy, and also archaeology. But, of the greatest importance when it comes to the art of photography were those scientific investigations which led to the discovery of the negative/positive process involved in creating 'pictures of light'.

John Hershel and Thomas Wedgwood had both worked with creating photograms – the silhouettes of objects which were placed on chemically coated paper which itself was sensitive to light. When that paper was left in the sunlight, the areas that were then 'exposed' became darker than whatever object was placed on top to block the light. These images could be remarkable - such as when lace and ferns were 'exposed'. However, they were rarely stable and very soon tended to fade away. 

This only made Fox Talbot  determined to find a more durable method of ‘photographic drawing’. He experimented with ‘fixing’ the paper, after which he came to realise that, although it was generally assumed that all pictures required long exposure times, the image might actually be made quite soon; latent, but invisible on the page. If a suitable chemical was applied a negative image could be ‘developed’ from which any number of ‘positives’ could then be printed out. This was quite different from the method used in Louis Daguerre’s 'Daguerreotypes' when a direct positive was set on glass, creating what were often the most remarkable images. But they might only be created once.


L'Atelier de l'artiste, by Daguerre, created in 1837

Fox Talbot’s methods went on to form the basis for almost all subsequent methods employed in the photographic arts, from those first sometimes blurred ghostly images to the digital forms we use today - and though the VV can only imagine what he might have thought about it all, perhaps he would repeat these words which can still make the hair prickle up on her neck -

‘A person unacquainted with the process, if told that nothing of this was executed by hand, must imagine that one has at one’s call the Genius of Alladin’s Lamp. And, indeed, it may almost be said, that this is something of the same kind. It is a little bit of magic realised.’


There is certainly something magical about this latticed oriel window from Fox Talbot’s Lacock Abbey home. This reproduction was printed from the oldest photographic negative in existence; first created by Fox Talbot in 1835. 

For more images which the VV captured in the beautiful setting of Lacock Abbey, please see  MORE WINDOWS AT LACOCK ABBEY.

12/06/2011

THE VICTORIANS AND SCIENCE FICTION...


When the VV thinks of Victorian writers, the genre of science fiction is not the first that springs to mind. Rather, it is the idea of domestic sagas charting the intricacies of everyday life, juxtaposed with sensation, melodrama and mystery. And yet there were authors quite unrestricted by such conventions as the current free exhibition at the British Library shows.

'Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know It' informs us that the nineteenth century was a time when futuristic scientific fiction was rampant, with exciting novels being published that are still in print as classics today, and the concepts within them still influencing much of our contemporary writing and drama.
 
The Victorian era was one transformed by the industrial revolution, with many 'fantastical' new inventions such as the steam engine, the telegraph, the use of electricity, the 'magic' of film and photography. So, it would not have been the greatest leap for an imaginative and active mind to construct whole 'new worlds' around such ideas.


Sometimes that imagination turned out to be prophetic, such as in the case of Jules Verne who, when writing From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, described a journey in which he predicted, with quite an uncanny accuracy, a three-manned aluminium spacecraft being launched from Florida by a cannon called Columbiad, which then returned to earth again by splashing down into the Pacific ocean – and all at an estimated cost that was almost the same in real time as the billions which financed the Apollo mission – when 3 men were blasted up to the moon in a vessel made mainly of aluminium, before splashing back down to the Pacific Ocean!

There was fictional travel of a different kind, and many stories had already been told whereby men travelled back and forth in time, but never by using an actual machine - until The Time Machine by H G Wells which proved to be hugely successful – although it has to be said that the concept was not original as a Spanish writer called E Gaspar had already published El Anacronopete – or The Time Ship: a novel based on a vessel that if anything resembles the ideas behind the construction of Dr Who’s Tardis, being larger on the inside than out, whereas H G Wells' contraption was a great deal smaller and more 'down to earth'. 



Both writers were telling more than a story. Wells was deeply concerned about the social disintegration that might result from industrial advances. Gaspar may have set his character off on a romp through ancient Rome, 3rd Century China, and the start of creation, but their journey was a clever way of satirising the present day – just as Jonathan Swift also did when, in the early 1700's, he created Lemuel Gulliver who sailed more conventionally to visit weird and wonderful lands which satirised the everyday faults of government and religion.

So, you see the old adage really is true – there is rarely anything new in this world – even when it comes to the 'other worlds' of science fiction and fantasy. And though now we find ourselves in the midst of another extraordinary revolution – this time a digital one which may yet open up who knows what new and exciting realms, even this phenomenon was foreseen by the Victorian writer Mark Twain who, in 1898 when inspired by the invention of the telephone wrote a story set 6 years in the future in which he visualised ‘mind’ travelling, rather than that instigated by physical movement. His ‘telectroscope’ has striking similarities to our modern internet, making ‘the daily doings of the globe…visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.’


The VV cannot but help ponder on what wonders might come next - perhaps even telecommunication with other beings in our universe - but, you know, H G Wells thought of that too when he wrote about Mars in The War of the Worlds.



The OUT OF THIS WORLD Exhibition continues until September.

Gaspar's novel is currently being translated and should be available in English next year.


And, creating a rather nice symmetry, another Spanish writer has recently written a best-selling novel entitled The Map of Time in which the author, Felix J Palma, employs many themes from H G Wells' The Time Machine whilst reconstructing and twisting them into an entirely new story which draws upon other Victorian 'wonders' such as the history of The Elephant Man.


For other related VV posts, please see: 





07/06/2011

A SIGNED AND LINED FIRST EDITION OF THE SOMNAMBULIST BY ESSIE FOX...


Yesterday, the VV was in Goldsboro Books in London's Cecil Court, (a wonderful Victorian pedestrianised street full of specialist book and print sellers) to sign and line copies of her book.

It now seems that every one of those books had already been sold, though to date there are still 2 pre-publication proof copies remaining. 

So, today, to say a big thank you to all of her followers featured in the right hand bar of this blog, the VV has decided to give away a 'signed, lined and dated' first edition of her novel, The Somnambulist. 

Please leave a comment below by 6pm on Sunday June 12. 

This offer is NOT restricted to those followers in the UK - that simply wouldn't seem fair!

The draw has now been made and the first name out of the hat was... Ta da!...Kelly Marie

Kelly, please email me at virtualvictorian@gmail.com along with whatever dedication you would like and I will send the book out some time this coming week.

03/06/2011

THE CLEANSING FLAMES: NEW NOVEL BY R.N. MORRIS...



It is Easter, 1872. Fires burn in St. Petersburgh, a prelude to the revolutionary turmoil that will shake Russia a generation later. As the springtime thaw begins, a body rises to the surface of the Winter Canal. Following an anonymous tip-off, magistrate Porfiery Petrovich is drawn into an investigation of the radical intellectuals who seek to fan the flames of the revolution.

Could this be the last of Porfiry Petrovich?

For all you fans of the R N Morris' St Petersburgh Mysteries in which the investigator from Dostoevksy's Crime and Punishment lives on to pursue new crimes, the VV is able to offer a free copy of this his latest novel in the series. Please send your name and email address via virtualvictorian@gmail.com and the VV will draw a winner from the proverbial russian hat - she does have one you know! It looks rather smart.



ADDENDUM: The draw for The Cleansing Flames has now been made and the winner will be emailed shortly. Sorry to those who didn't win but just to let you know that Roger Morris will be doing a talk this coming Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 - it has been organised by the Friends of Croydon Library and will be held at the United Reformed Church, Addiscombe Grove, East Croydon. You can book on 0208 660 0775 or tickets will be available on the door.