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Talbot, William Henry Fox
William Henry Fox Talbot (February 11, 1800 - September 17, 1877) was one of the first photographers and made major contributions to the photographic process. He is also remembered as the holder of a patent which affected the early development of photography in England.
Talbot was the only child of William Davenport Talbot, of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, and of Lady Elizabeth Fox Strangways, daughter of the 2nd earl of Ilchester. He was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained the Person prize in 1820, and graduated as twelfth wrangler in 1821. From 1822 to 1872 he frequently communicated papers to the Royal Society, many of them on mathematical subjects. At an early period he had begun his optical researches, which were to have such important results in connection with photography. To the Edinburgh Journal of Science in 1826 he contributed a paper on "Some Experiments on Colored Flame"; to the Quarterly Journal of Science in 1827 a paper on "Monochromatic Light"; and to the Philosophical Magazine a number of papers on chemical subjects, including one on "Chemical Changes of Color."
Talbot engaged in photographic experiments before Louis Daguerre exhibited in 1839 his pictures taken by the sun. After Daguerre's discoveries became known, Talbot communicated the results of his experiments to the Royal Society. In 1841 he made known his discovery of the calotype or talbotype process. This process is based on the work of many predecessors, including John Herschel and Joseph Reade. Talbot's original contributions included the concept of a negative from which many positive prints can be made (although the terms negative and positive were coined by Herschel), and the use of gallic acid for developing latent image. For his photographic discoveries, which are detailed in his Pencil of Nature (1844), he received in 1842 the Rumford medal of the Royal Society.
In February 1841, Talbot obtained a patent for the calotype process. At first he was selling individual patent licenses for £20 each, but later he lowered the fee to £4 and waived the payment for those who bought photographic materials from him. Professional photographers, however, had to pay up to £300 annually. Talbot's behavior was widely criticized, especially after 1851 when Frederick Scott Archer publicized the collodion process he had invented. Talbot declared that anyone using Archer's process would still be liable to get a license from Talbot for calotype (Archer himself never obtained a patent for collodion).
One reason Talbot patented the calotype was that he was aware that Daguerre was developing a photographic process. Talbot had no details, and this was after he had spent many thousands of pounds (then a small fortune) on his process over several years. Talbot at first used sensitised paper in his "Pencil of Nature" photogrammes (objects placed between a light source and the sensitive paper leaving a shadow image). The image was desensitised by soaking in a bath of sodium thiosulphate.
The calotype was a refinement of this process where the negative paper direct image was printed onto a sensitised sheet placed underneath. The negative meant that the print could be reproduced as many times as was required. The daguerrotype was a single image process and not reproducable, just as a Polaroid color photogaph where a copy has to be made. On the other hand, the calotype, despite oiling of the negative paper to make the image clearer, still was not pin sharp like the metalic daguerrotype as the paper fibers degraded the image produced.
The problem was resolved in 1851 when Daguerre died and the wet collodion process enabled glass to be used as a support. With glass support, the negative (refined paper calotype) won the war.
Daguerre also was aware that Talbot was working on a process and brought forward his announcement. To do this he gained the backing of the French Government and was awarded a pension for his troubles. Niepce was never to receive a pension for his part in the development, though his son was eventually given a pension.
Daguerre's development costs were paid for by this pension which he would receive for life. His process was released without patent worldwide except for the UK where it was protected to stop Talbot from being first or developing his system against Daguerre. The matter was settled after 1851 when the negative process continued and the Daguerrotype died out by about 1861.
In August 1852, The Times published an open letter by Lord Rosse, the President of the Royal Society, and Charles Lock Eastlake, the president of the Royal Academy, who called on Talbot to relieve his patent pressure that was perceived as stifling the development of photography. In his response, Talbot agreed to waive licensing fees for amateurs, but he continued to pursue professional portrait photographers, having filed several lawsuits. The cost of the license for anyone wishing to make portraits for sale was £100 for the first year and £150 each subsequent year.
In 1854 Talbot applied for an extension of the 14-year patent, to be expired in 1855. At that time one of his lawsuits, against a photographer Martin Laroche, was heard by the court. The Talbot v. Laroche case was the pivotal point of the story. Laroche's side argued that the patent was invalid, as a similar process was invented earlier by Joseph Reade, and that using the collodion process does not infringe the calotype patent anyway because of significant differences between the two processes. In the verdict, the jury upheld the calotype patent but agreed that Laroche was not ifringing upon it by using the collodion process. Disappointed by the outcome, Talbot chose not to extend his patent. Photography was finally free of (the first) patent encumberance.
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