photo by Antonia Flowerville

In the silver moonlight growing
Thou wilt see a pale-eyed flower;
Shunning day, and only blowing
At the silent midnight hour.
—William Fox Henry Talbot, The Presentiment, 1830

William Henry Fox Talbot, who invented the process in the 1830s, describes it in “The Pencil of Nature”:

This done, it is placed in the sunshine for a few minutes, until the exposed parts of the paper have turned dark brown or nearly black. It is then removed to a shady place, and when the leaf is taken up, it is found to have left its impression or picture on the paper. This image is of pale brown tint if the leaf is semi-transparent, or it is quite white if the leaf is opaque. The leaves of plants thus represented in white upon a dark background, make very pleasing pictures, and I shall probably introduce a few specimens of them in the sequel to this work. (Quoted in The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot by Larry Schaaf)

And more poetically: “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.”


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