Lacock AbbeyPosted: September 16, 2011
The first time I visited Lacock Abbey was with on a university trip. Being the photography geek that I am I’m still excited to see the place where the photographic negative was invented, and secretly keep an eye out of the views around the house, eager to spot something documented in his early experiments that still remains today – nearly 180 years later.
Our ride to Lacock was an incredibly pretty, flat and relaxed one – following the first sustrans cycle track ever built between Bristol and Bath, and onwards through Bradford Upon Avon. It we’re honest, we hadn’t planned to travel much beyond Bath along the cycle track, but the miles flew by and we figured we’d rather do a few more miles on the canal tow paths than a shorter direct route involving hills and cars. It was a good decision. After a good splashing of muddy puddles and some rattled wrists (the road section seemed so so smooth afterwards!) we rolled into the village of Lacock. We were met by the lovely and welcoming staff, pitched our tents, and went to the pub for a meal – it was our last venue of the tour, after all!
Next morning, we breakfasted on cheese and bread along with some of the fallen damsons from the nearby tree. Lovely stuff! We were tempted to try to apples, but remembered they were cooking apples and so thought better of it. Once we got packed we retrieved the bikes from the barn when disaster struck – after more than 300 puncture free miles, one of the trailers wheels was deflated, with a suspect thorn later found. Just before I’d thought we’d been lucky to complete the tour without a single puncture..We wheeled our way to the front of Lacock Abbey – this is where in the 1830s William Henry Fox Talbot would have been experimenting with his ‘mousetrap’ cameras as his wife called them – simple cameras not to unlike our own (only much smaller!).
‘How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durable and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible?’
Why indeed! Talbot was determined to try to capture the image he could see in his model obscuras as if it were the ‘pencil of nature’. During the 1830s he cracked it by using paper coated with silver iodide, and the Pencil Of Nature became the title of the first photographic publication in 1844 which illustrated his process and included examples. The earliest surviving negative made by Talbot is of a window in the Abbey, called the Oriel window, and this was to be the our first subject of the day too.
Next we began to invite the visitors to step inside, and it was really great to have a mix of people eager to learn about Fox Talbot’s process, our obscura, and how they all link to today’s technology. It was interesting to hear about one chaps work that involved studying the eyes of animals – apparently, the first eyes were also pinhole like in structure – something I hadn’t really though about before. Anyway! Here are some of the pictures we took. The light was fantastic and the setting well suited.
After we’d packed up, I had just enough time to look around the photography museum and gallery (currently showing some of Bernard Shaw’s work). They had an impressive range of cameras, and I had to laugh to see the cameras I still use most regularly in a museum and confined to our past!
The exhibition does well to show Talbot’s contribution to the development of photography, and the setting of Lacock is the perfect backdrop to thinking back to those times. I’m glad our last visit on tour was so enjoyable, and thanks again to the staff for hosting us.