William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877)
Talbot converses with an Acolyte in the North Courtyard of Lacock Abbey, 1841-1844
Calotype negative, waxed
15.9 x 20.0 cm
The time is early afternoon. Although the ivy provides little hint of the season, the open windows speak of the sun's warmth. Lady Elisabeth Feilding's bank of windows is immediately above the two gentlemen. Above her room, in the servants' quarters, there seem to be two figures in the window. The main characters in the photograph, Talbot himself and perhaps either Calvert Jones or Nicolaas Henneman, are in a forced casual pose, realistic enough but braced for the several seconds the camera operator required for the calotype negative. In a posing conceit, a delicate wooden chair has been brought out from the Abbey to provide support.
The north courtyard was the central support hub of Lacock Abbey, housing the brewery, storage, estate offices, and stable. The kitchen was a critical source of supplies for Talbot's photography, and its basement entrance is just to the right of the image. A seated Talbot wears the typical gentleman's daytime dress with the fashionable straight-lined top hat defining his role as master of the estate. Talbot is discussing the condition of the crops or perhaps arrangements for a journey with a coatless man portrayed by Jones or Henneman. The belted britches and stockings are practical work wear and he appears to be wearing wooden clogs, often the mark of an agricultural worker. His gray top hat is appropriate for daytime use, but its "mad hatter" size and slightly concave sides speak of an earlier era, perhaps a hand-me-down Wellington from the 1820s.
The excellent density of the negative ensures full details in the shadows. It was waxed to both increase transparency and to provide some protection from airborne contaminants. The corners are neatly clipped to prevent damage in handling while printing but, in spite of this precaution, one was accidentally torn away. This is an early print, fortunately made before that corner was damaged.