At the heart of Capturing the Light, there lies a small scrap of purple-tinged paper, over 170 years old and about the size of a postage stamp. On it you can just make out a tiny, ghostly image – an image so small and perfect that ‘it might be supposed to be the work of some Lilliputian artist’; the world’s first photographic negative.
This captivating book traces the true story of two very different men in the 1830s, both striving to solve one of the world’s oldest problems: how to capture an image, and keep it for ever. On the one hand there is Henry Fox Talbot, a quiet, solitary gentleman-amateur scientist, tinkering away on his estate in the English countryside; on the other, Louis Daguerre: a flamboyant, charismatic French scenery-painter, showman and entrepreneur in search of fame and fortune.
Both men invented methods of photography that would enable ordinary people, for the first time in history, to illustrate their own lives and leave something behind of their passing. Photography would transform art, the documentation of both war and peace, and become so natural and widespread that now, each of us carries a camera everywhere with us, and takes this most magical of processes for granted.
Only one question remains: which man got there first?