Obelisk Art History
Mediums

Calotype
Another loser in the race to democratize photography

The calotype is one of a handful of early photographic methods that were invented around the same time. Calotypes were sometimes called ‘talbotypes’ after their inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot, who developed the process in 1841 by coating paper with silver iodide. Though I prefer the more poetic term, from the Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful", and τύπος (tupos), “impression.”

Calotypes take a long time to create, usually requiring an exposure of over an hour, which is probably why most calotype images are almost like still lives, more likely to feature plants or household objects than faces. After a bloom of popularity, calotypes were unable to beat out their competition, the daguerreotype, in part because Talbot copyrighted his invention and Louis Daguerre did not, allowing Daguerre’s technology to spread more quickly.

Reed Enger, "Calotype, Another loser in the race to democratize photography," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 25, 2015; last modified November 06, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/mediums/calotype/.

Read More
Buckler Fern, William Henry Fox Talbot

Buckler Fern William Henry Fox Talbot, 1839

The Bertoloni Album, William Henry Fox Talbot

The Bertoloni Album William Henry Fox Talbot, 1839

The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey, William Henry Fox Talbot

The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey William Henry Fox Talbot, 1835 – 1839

Detail of the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey, William Henry Fox Talbot

Detail of the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey William Henry Fox Talbot, 1840

Bust of Patroclus, William Henry Fox Talbot

Bust of Patroclus William Henry Fox Talbot, 1843

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