Capturing the Light

An exploration of the roles of Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot in the invention of photography, its impact on the 19th century and its patronage by Victoria and Albert

“Historians Watson and Rappaport offer an energetically written and deftly paced history of photography’s origins, including the intricate rivalries surrounding Talbot and Daguerre’s laborious attempts to permanently capture images seen through the camera obscura. … Though Daguerre reaped many more commercial rewards, Talbot emerges as a humble, hardworking genius in this gripping popular history.”

publishers weekly

Capturing the Light:

The Birth of Photography

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?


“The enthralling story of the two lone geniuses – Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre – who simultaneously strove to find a way to capture an image and keep it for ever.Talbot was a quiet, English gentleman amateur, Dauguerre a flamboyant, charismatic French showman. But who got there first?”



“This book gives considerable detail about the scientific development of the various stages of photography which will delight the experts.”

The Scotsman


“Watson…and Rappaport…have written a detailed and intensely interesting account.”



“A fascinating tale…neatly interweaved. The result is a compelling tale of two men of genius, whose vision, brilliance ad determination enabled them to create photography.”

Black and White magazine


“A well-timed and welcome history of the invention and spread of photography in the nineteenth century.”



“Tells a lively, sympathetic story of both men, along with others present at the birth of photography, an art form that owes so much to chemistry.”

Boston Globe

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