Salt & Silver surveys the first two decades of photography’s evolution through the salted paper print process, unveiled in 1839 by the English scientist and scholar William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877). Talbot’s invention was a scientific and artistic breakthrough that created an entirely new visual experience. Salt prints are velvety and soft-textured, with images formed by light- sensitive chemicals embedded in the fibers of the paper’s surface. These handmade photographs range in colors that include sepia, violet, mulberry, terracotta, silver-gray, and charcoal-black hues. The salted paper technique was efficient, portable, and versatile, traits that allowed the practice of photography to spread across the globe from the early 1840s onward. Featuring the work of more than 40 practitioners, Salt & Silver traces their networks and geographical reach from England into Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, China, Mexico and the United States.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is Salt & Silver’s final stop of a three-venue tour after the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, Claremont, CA. (A selection of these same works was on view at Tate, London in 2015.) Endlessly fascinating for its many artistic, historical and scientific facets, Salt & Silver: Early Photography,1840–1860 reveals the excitement and innovation of the medium’s first years. Early photography’s radically new ways of viewing the world remain important to this very day.