Salt prints are the earliest photographs that still exist today, having first been presented in Britain in 1839. The technology very soon moved on, but where the salt prints are concerned the photographs are ‘captured’ via paper coated in silver salts which is then made sensitive to light.
Study of China, 1844. By Henry Fox Talbot
Henry Fox Talbot first had the idea of ‘drawing’ a picture in such a way while sketching on his honeymoon. On returning home to Lacock Abbey, he soon set about experimenting and the negative images he made were then exposed onto other sheets, using direct sunlight to create a positive image.
Abbey Ruins by John Wheeley Gough Gutch, circa 1858
The results were almost like paintings with a soft interplay between light and shade creating such stunning photographs that then inspired many more to make light pictures of their own. And, when seen in reality, rather than here on the blog, the pictures are incredibly fine in detail, tone and contrast.
Jean-Baptiste Frenet. Horse and Groom. 1855
Variations on such a portable method of recording people, buildings, and art, soon spread through Europe and beyond. This was also the age of steam, with ships and trains enabling explorers and artists to move around more easily than they could before.
La Porte Rouge, Notre Dame by Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard. 1851
Eventually the process was modified and developed by the Frenchman, Louis-Desire Blanquart-Evrard, who first found a way producing prints in mass quantities for a public trade. And then, a few years later, he went on to invent an entirely new process; with the albumen method of making prints soon replacing the salt and silver one.
So, only for a short span of time was the salt print method popular. And from now, until this coming June, you can view some of the finest examples which are currently being exhibited in the galleries of Tate Britain.
For related posts on photography, please see —