Tate Britain, Salt & Silver, © Wilson Centre for Photography
The first major exhibition in Britain devoted to salt prints, Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860, opens at Tate Britain on 25 February 2015. Salt prints are the earliest form of paper photography. Invented in Britain, William Henry Fox Talbot unveiled this ground-breaking new process in 1839. In the 1840s and 50s, the salt print technique introduced a revolutionary new way of creating photographs on paper. The ninety photographs featured in the exhibition are among the few fragile salt prints that survive and are seldom shown in public.
The world’s first photographic prints were made by soaking paper in silver iodide salts to register a negative image which, when photographed again, created permanent paper positives. This process spread across the globe through the work of British and international photographers – artists, scientists, adventurers and entrepreneurs of their day. In portraiture, the faces of beloved children, celebrities, rich and poor were recorded as photographers sought to catch the human presence. This is a far cry from the seamless production of instant photography, such as selfies which dominate our culture today. The camera drew attention to previously overlooked details, such as the personal outline of trees and expressive textures of fabric. Still life, portraits, landscapes and scenes of modern life were transformed into luxurious, soft, chiaroscuro images.
This trailblazing technique captured both daily activities and historic moments of the mid-19th century from William Henry Fox Talbot’s images of a modern Parisian street and Nelson’s Column under construction, to Auguste Salzmann’s uncanny studies of statues in Greece. 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’sshell-shocked soldiers in the Crimean war. The exhibition will show how, for a short yet significant time, the British invention of salt prints swept the world and created a new visual experience. You can also follow the exhibitions journey via Twitter: @tate #SaltSilver, but be sure to check out the exhibition for yourself which runs until June.Tate Britain Millbank London SW1P 4RG