Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-60

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-60

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-60
Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-60

Jean-Baptiste Frénet, Women and girls with a doll, circa 1855

© Wilson Centre for Photography

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860
25 February – 7 June 2015 (Press view 23 February 2015)
Tate Britain, Linbury Galleries
Open daily 10.00–18.00
Adult £12.00, Concession £10.50

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 is the first major exhibition in Britain devoted to salt prints, the earliest form of paper photography. The exhibition features some of the rarest and best early photographs in the world, depicting daily activities and historic moments of the mid 19th century. The ninety photographs on display are among the few fragile salt prints that survive and are seldom shown in public. Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 opens at Tate Britain on 25 February 2015.

In the 1840s and 50s, the salt print technique introduced a revolutionary new way of creating photographs on paper. It was invented in Britain and spread across the globe through the work of British and international photographers – artists, scientists, adventurers and entrepreneurs of their day. They captured historic moments and places with an immediacy not previously seen, from William Henry Fox Talbot’s images of a modern Paris street and Nelson’s Column under construction, to Linnaeus Tripe’s dramatic views of Puthu Mundapum, India and Auguste Salzmann’s uncanny studies of statues in Greece.

In portraiture, the faces of beloved children, celebrities, rich and poor were recorded as photographers sought to catch the human presence. Highlights include Fox Talbot’s shy and haunting photograph of his daughter Ela in 1842 to Nadar’s images of sophisticated Parisians and Roger Fenton’s shell-shocked soldiers in the Crimean war.

William Henry Fox Talbot unveiled this ground-breaking new process in 1839. He made the world’s first photographic prints by soaking paper in silver iodide salts to register a negative image which, when photographed again, created permanent paper positives. These hand-made photographs ranged in colour from sepia to violet, mulberry, terracotta, silver-grey, and charcoal-black and often had details drawn on like the swishing tail of a horse.

Still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of modern life were transformed into luxurious, soft, chiaroscuro images. The bold contrasts between light and dark in the images turned sooty shadows into solid shapes. Bold contrasts between light and dark turned shadows into abstract shapes and movement was often captured as a misty blur. The camera drew attention to previously overlooked details, such as the personal outline of trees and expressive textures of fabric.

In the exciting Victorian age of modern invention and innovation, the phenomenon of salt prints was quickly replaced by new photographic processes. The exhibition shows how, for a short but significant time, the British invention of salt prints swept the world and created a new visual experience.

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 is organised in collaboration with the Wilson Centre for photography. It is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator, British Art 1850-1915, Tate Britain, Simon Baker, Curator, Photography and International Art, Tate, and Hannah Lyons, Assistant Curator, 1850-1915, Tate. ‘Salt and Silver’ – Early Photography 1840-1860 is published by Mack to coincide with the exhibition and will be accompanied by a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

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