Leaves of Orchidea
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William Henry Fox Talbot
British, London, April 1839
Photogenic drawing negative
6 3/4 x 8 3/16 in.

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On January 25, 1839, in London, William Henry Fox Talbot held the first public display of his photogenic drawings. Afterward, he set about perfecting the first negative/positive photographic process, the calotype. Talbot's invention eventually became the basis for photography as it is practiced today.

This botanical study resulted from his intensive period of experimentation. Talbot was in correspondence with Sir John Herschel, the preeminent scientist of his day and Talbot's mentor. Talbot created numerous specimen studies that he carefully chronicled and discussed with Herschel. At this stage, Talbot's images were still fairly rudimentary, and almost all were negative images. The splotchy, uneven tones in this image are perhaps the result of the paper not being properly "fixed," or stabilized. In 1839 Herschel invented "hypo," a stabilizing fixative bath.