Nelson's Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, April 1844
William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1877)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 6 3/4 x 8 3/8 in. (17.1 x 21.2 cm)
Anonymous Gift and Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts; 2004 Benefit Fund; W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Gift; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; Susan and Thomas Dunn and Constance and Leonard Goodman Gifts, 2009 (2009.279)
Made just five years into the history of photography by the medium's inventor, Nelson's Column is among William Henry Fox Talbot's most complex and beautiful images, and this example is a particularly fine print. By April 1844, photography was still new and handcrafted but no longer experimental. Talbot could turn his attention from the mechanics of making a picture to the aesthetics, and, having executed numerous carefully arranged photographs at his home, Lacock Abbey, he felt confident enough to go out into the world to find his subjects. Many of his images taken "on the road" were predictably picturesque or topographic, but at Trafalgar Square, Talbot found a compelling perspective, a daring composition, and a fascinating intersection of the religious and secular, the historic and present-day. Instead of choosing a more distant vantage point or a vertical format to show the entire column, with its bronze capital and seventeen-foot-tall statue, he framed a view in which the bill-posted construction fence and the column's massive base dominate the foreground, while the steeple of St. Martin-in-the-Fields rises in the background to the very edge of the picture. Nelson's Column marks the beginning of a new, photographic way of seeing.