Figure 1: Talbot 1835. Oriel Window
Larry Schaaf and Geoffrey Batchen on Talbot's Oriel Window
The Repeat Photography Presentation briefly discussed Henry Fox Talbot’s (1800-1877) first negative image of the Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey [Gary McLeod]. McLeod’s presentation highlighted Talbot’s repeat photography of the Oriel window (1835 – 1839) over several years and the possible reasons for it. Larry Schaaf’s (Talbot scholar) view was that the window became an ideal subject for repeat photography experimentation, because of its proximity to a mantle-piece that was directly opposite it – this would have ensured the necessary stabilisation required for hours-long exposure times. However, Geoffrey Batchen believed that the Oriel window was Talbot’s deliberate subject - a signifier, and not simply, a subject of convenience. In Batchen’s book ‘Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History’, he states that Talbot, in his opinion, was a metaphoric photographer, that all his images were analogies. (Batchen, pg 7-9). Batchen subtly provided evidence of his assertion by pointing to Talbot’s rebuilding of this particular room where the Oriel window is located. The rebuilding took place during 1827 when Talbot moved in and was completed in 1831. Talbot had visualised the room as a potential art gallery. Batchen also pointed out that Talbot made reference to the window as a “Philosophical Window".
Figure 2: Talbot 1835-1839. Oriel Window
While Batchen’s arguments are compelling, they in a way, limit who Talbot was, leaving out his practical and logical nature, that mathematical side and his close connection to John Herschel who would have, no doubt, influenced or inspired Talbot. In considering both Schaaf’s and Batchen’s views, it would be reasonable to conclude that the truth is somewhere in between. Perhaps what may have started out as simply a scientific experiment, naturally evolved into a more critical review of Talbot’s own practice, and what his window came to represent at a later stage. Indeed, it could be that Talbot was the first to review the photograph – his “Philosophical Window”, “experimentalizing”. (Batchen pg 9).
If we think about our own history in photography, there is always that one experiment, where the subject was random but convenient, with any analogy conceptualised after its birth. Talbot’s repeat photography of the Oriel window might not have been deliberate in a metaphoric way, but it was deliberate in Talbot’s journey as a photographer, his challenges to ‘get it right’, his challenges in understanding what he captured and depicted were working distinctive yet parallel. The legacy that Talbot leaves behind in his repeat photography of the Oriel Window is the legacy of returning to a place, thing or person and rediscovering what is still there, what is gone, and what is appearing.
Today contemporary photographers like Camilo José Vergara, return to repeat photography and bring awareness to important issues affecting communities. Vergara’s ‘Tracking Time’, is a 40-year documentation of urban America’s poorest and segregated communities. The photographer returned yearly to capture the same buildings, same positions, providing us with a time capsule of imagery that is both poignant, nostalgic and celebratory.
The process of repeat photography continues to inspire and influence each of us in different ways, for me, especially regarding my current project, ‘The Objectification of the Female Subject in Photography’, it’s about returning to historical female subjects, using signifiers to tell their stories. In my project, I have repeated a scene, narrative, several times. Why am I returning? What is it that’s not there, missing? I return because the ‘photograph’ is incomplete. My journey as a photographer cannot be complete without repetition. In moving forward from week one, I take with me not only the advantages of repeat photography but also the process of rephotography through the strategy of Sergey Larenkov when I explored the merits of his strategies and surfaces in adapting my enactment photograph of Marie Antoinette for the weekly activity, ‘In Another’s Shoes'. Another exciting activity was The Ed Ruscha’s Project. The project allowed me to explore the common yet discarded visuals of objects one encounters, to photograph something that has no unwarranted interest was appealing and philosophical. The project has enhanced my recognition of the ordinary and how it can play a distinct role in my project development.
BATCHEN, GEOFFREY. 2000. Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History. London: MIT Press
MCLEOD, GARY. 2017. Week 1 presentation 1: Repeat photography [video]
WILLETTE, JEANNE. 2014. 'William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) Part One'. Arthistoryunstuffed.com [online] Available at: http://arthistoryunstuffed.com/william-henry-fox-talbot-1800-1877/ [accessed June 19, 2017].
Figure 1 & 2: TALBOT, HENRY FOX. 1835. The Oriel Window. Arthistoryunstuffed.com [online] Available at: http://arthistoryunstuffed.com/william-henry-fox-talbot-1800-1877/ [accessed June 19, 2017].