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Michel Hardy-Vallée
08-14-2006, 10:19 AM
I have two favorite 19thC photographs: one is Daguerre's earliest surviving still life, and another is Henry Fox Talbot's "The Open Door."

Pictorially, I appreciate the sharpness of the image, as well as the tonality of the door and the broomstick's knot. I find the composition to be well-balanced, with simple lines, and the tension between the diagonal of the broom against the vertical wall attracts the gaze towards the window that lies beyond the open door. Finally, the point of view is low enough that the viewer is at eye level with the person who would come out of the door and use the broom. The broom seems to have been hand made, out of available pieces of straw (or branches?), and its grassiness echoes the vines flanking the picture. The lamp hanging on the wall is waiting to be picked up for walking outside at night. It's a simple photo containing many scenes in waiting.

What I also find fascinating about the picture is its age: this photo is an eye upon the world before it knew about photography itself. This picture shows items of real life so far in time that no human memory is still alive to carry it as well. This photo is for me a time machine, the kind of which that reminds me of Barthes's fascination with old portraits: "These eyes have seen Napoleon." These door and broom has seen winters without electricities, and the less industrialized world. Everybody who has seen this world and lived then is now dead, but we can borrow their eyes.

Photo taken from:
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tlbt/hob_L.1995.2.7.htm

Bill Hahn
08-14-2006, 10:38 AM
It's interesting to compare early efforts by Talbot with his later work. The first images seem almost to be mostly about the process "look I fixed an image of whatever", and the later images showed much more sensitivity to composition and subject. His "eye" seemed to have definitely improved over time.

Look at that broom. If I'm not mistaken, it's the old-fashioned circular type, not the "flat" broom we're used to today.

(Short story: while I was visiting a historical farmhouse in Western Pennsylvania, one of the caretakers cleaning up the place left a broom standing by an open door. I made a snapshot, thinking of Talbot and this photograph....)

copake_ham
08-14-2006, 10:56 AM
Well working with curves and levels in PS we could certainly "fix" the contrast and tonality -- just kidding!!

Actually, the OP said pretty much all there is in terms of composition etc.

Picture makers (be they photogs or painters or sketchers etc.) always find open doors (or similar portals) an almost irresistable image. It make the viewer curious - what's inside? Why did the person leave the broom right in the doorway - was she or he distracted by something that needed tending to inside such that they did not have time to put away the broom - or even close the door behind them!

As Bill says above - a photo like this "sticks in your mind" and some day or other you find a similar scene and just "have" to shoot that picture. I guess this is what is meant by an "icon picture" - one that once viewed remains in our subconcious to inform us in the future.

Great shot and great choice for discussion.

Ole
08-14-2006, 12:05 PM
Look at that broom. If I'm not mistaken, it's the old-fashioned circular type, not the "flat" broom we're used to today.

That's a real broom. A bundle of twigs tied around a handle.

reellis67
08-14-2006, 12:07 PM
I too get an immediate sense of wonder about who left the broom, what is inside, etc. from this picture. The strong sense of place created by the vines, the lantern, and the window inside the building, make this image seem comfortable and easy to view. I don't feel compelled to look for the technical aspects like I would an abstract photo, rather I can simply view and enjoy the simplicity of it.

- Randy

Bill Hahn
08-14-2006, 12:27 PM
Talbot's home, Lacock Abbey, which figures in many of his images, was used in a
Harry Potter movie.....

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/interactive/galleries/lacock_potter/gallery.shtml

Artur Zeidler
08-14-2006, 12:41 PM
I too get an immediate sense of wonder about who left the broom,
- Randy

the photographer (or his gardner) no doubt. And certainly most carefully arranged for effect!


This is one of my favourite Fox Talbot pictures:

http://www.rawworkflow.com/making_pictures/11/images/127.jpg

roteague
08-14-2006, 01:00 PM
I like the image, purely from a historical point of view. Love looking at old images of how people used to live.

pentaxuser
08-14-2006, 01:05 PM
Lacock Abbey is open to the public with free admission if you're a National Trust member. It looks much as it did when Fox Talbot lived there and took his photos so you can relate the photos to current actuality. There's a photographic museum detailing his experiments and taking the visitor into the 20th century. When I was there about 3 years ago, there wasn't a digi in sight.Presumably because it's the history of analogue photography.

Well worth a visit if you're in Wiltshire.

pentaxuser

Flotsam
08-14-2006, 01:16 PM
Well working with curves and levels in PS we could certainly "fix" the contrast and tonality -- just kidding!!

LOL. But seriously, the shot would have been much improved if he had brushed up on the Zone System before he took it.

:)

Bob F.
08-14-2006, 01:43 PM
LOL. But seriously, the shot would have been much improved if he had brushed up on the Zone System before he took it.

:)This brings up something that I wonder about: how much of the quality that we see today in these early photographs has been lost due to deterioration. Did the highlights show as washed out 160 years ago? I guess we will never know.

According to my (very limited) reading, he was very influenced by the Dutch School of painting that was all the rage in England at the time. The Dutch School often showed everyday objects and people in a way that was rare until then where paintings were usually of religious events or of important people. There were often allegories in the work to do with man's lot. Open doors can be used to represent moving through one stage of life to another, or of death of course. The broom blocking the entrance and the lamp made available by the side of the door might mean something too, but I'm not well enough up on this stuff to decipher it... ;)

Technically, good use of glancing light to accentuate texture and well exposed as there is good shadow detail inside the building... A bit obviously staged, but then you have to consider the date - (very) early pictorialism? ;)


Cheers, Bob.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
08-14-2006, 02:54 PM
Very interesting responses so far!

Bob, when I read your remark about pictorialism, I was actually thinking about Talbot as an ur-f/64 because of the sharpness of the picture, even by paper negative standards... Your note about contrast remind me of that shop in the Halifax harbourfront that is selling prints from historical negatives. They enlarge negatives that were probably meant to be contact printed on long-scale papers, and the result is an excessive, obstrusive contrast that has become nonetheless accepted as the sign of an old photo.

I have found quite a few reproductions online of Talbot's photo, and some were way too contrasty, others were left-right reversed. The one good repro of that photo that I saw (and which made me love it instantly) was in a recent history of photography with a preface by Cartier-Bresson's daughter. I was struck by the quality of gradations in such an early photo, and how much the quality of light is preserved.

George and Ole: I'm fascinated too by the fact that the broom is just that, a bunch of twigs on a stick. Having a broom is a process, not a product! We should consider it now as an instance of alt-process broomaking.

Randy: I echo your feeling of comfort. In my reading, it is the low point of view that makes the viewer neither threatened nor threatening. The quality of light might be for something too. It looks hot and dry, and it makes me feel like when I was a kid and I spent my entire days outside, playing in the sand or otherwise, even under a sun that I now avoid (thinning hair...).

naturephoto1
08-14-2006, 05:03 PM
I like the image. Considering that this is one of the first photographs I find it rather amazing. This is Henry Fox Talbot's own view with no other photographic influences. The only 2 dimensional influences that he would have had would have been painting, pastel, and charcoal.

Rich

Jerevan
08-14-2006, 05:34 PM
When I was a kid we had one such broom - I think dad made it out of a birch tree branch and some twigs. Worked well for sweeping the front porch...

I am struck by how well the presence of light has been preserved. There's a good range of tonality, from the gloom indoors to the lantern hanging in the sunshine. And how sharp the print appears to be. The broom, the open door and most important: the discernable window in the gloom. It's a welcoming, open door to a tidy home (if the broom was used!). Photography opens up to seeing the most mundane things anew.

Bill Hahns comment about HFTs first images seeming to be more "look what I did!" and the later more refined, is well put. It's too damn easy to get bogged down in getting technique and process right and forgetting about the image. This image succeeds to be more than only the technicalities. even if it may be an everyday subject. The image feels complete as a whole. Nothing more to add to it. Only problem is that a screen with low resolution probably can't convey half of what's really in there in the print. I am impressed that I can be able to enjoy a print that was made 152 years ago!

Donald Miller
08-14-2006, 07:23 PM
I tend to view this photograph on the basis of compositional elements rather than the rendering of highlights, shadows, sharpness of the included elements or of the type of broom that this is.

For instance this image is all about shapes, lines and textures to me...the “photography of known and readily identifiable objects” really has very little interest for me today.

The first thing that I notice is the mimicking of the diagonals in this image. By that I mean the diagonal shadow on the door mirrors exactly the angle of the diagonal of the broom handle. The curves of the vegetation on the left wall mirror the curves of the vegetation on the right wall. The lantern on the larger right wall surface contributes to resolving the relative imbalance seen in the smaller left wall surface. Furthermore the lantern is located at the point of interest of the upper right hand corner and it serves as balance to the location of the broom which is located in the lower left hand corner "point of interest" of the image. Last but certainly not least is the source of light deep within the composition that is rendered as the window located in the interior of the room. This source of light located deep within the image imparts the dimension of deep space in the composition. For me, the single greatest point of compositional tension within this image is the point at which the diagonal of the broom handle impinges upon the vertical line of the wall.

These are the things that I see that make this image effective and worthy of being called a fine photograph today after the passage of all of this time. I care nothing for why Talbot chose to photograph this scene…I don’t care whether he had cornflakes for breakfast or whether he had sex the evening before.

Bill Hahn
08-14-2006, 07:49 PM
As the person who first drew attention to the broom, I do not resent Donald's comments here - I will tend to obsess on the history of images rather than the
compositional aspects. (Which is why I'm looking forward a "Discussing a ***** photograph" where all of us don't already know the photographer or image...)

But I'm wondering whether Talbot thought about all those compositional details on this photograph?....or just did it instinctively or just lucked out. Like I said, his eye seemed to improve over time.....

Cheers,
-Bill H.

Donald Miller
08-14-2006, 07:54 PM
As the person who first drew attention to the broom, I do not resent Donald's comments here - I will tend to obsess on the history of images rather than the
compositional aspects. (Which is why I'm looking forward a "Discussing a ***** photograph" where all of us don't already know the photographer or image...)

But I'm wondering whether Talbot thought about all those compositional details on this photograph?....or just did it instinctively or just lucked out. Like I said, his eye seemed to improve over time.....

Cheers,
-Bill H.

I meant no disrespect of you or of anyone else. I intended to indicate my method of viewing a photograph. It is in viewing photographs that I have learned and still continue to learn. As I indicated earlier, I really don't personally care what may or may not have been involved in Talbots considerations toward making this image.

Flotsam
08-14-2006, 11:41 PM
I've seen this kind of stuff a Million times before.
Frankly, I find this image a painfully contrived and derivative attempt to pander the urban gallery elite. This guy is never going to have any impact on Photography.









... ;)

copake_ham
08-15-2006, 12:14 AM
Well working with curves and levels in PS we could certainly "fix" the contrast and tonality -- just kidding!!
.......



Or was I? :D

Oh, really still just kidding but....

roteague
08-15-2006, 02:05 AM
Or was I? :D

Oh, really still just kidding but....

Lol..... :D