The British Library holds six volumes of the Pencil of Light by Henry Fox Talbot. I first heard of this book in 1972 when I attended Northwich Art College in Cheshire. Oscar Rowley, the lecturer in photography said that everything you wanted to understand about photography was to be found in Talbot’s book, but the reproduced images Oscar showed me bore little connection to the commercial world of photography I was heading for. Yet, thirty-eight years later, on a golden autumnal morning I sat waiting in the British Library for the book of six volumes to come out from the storage room and into my gloved hands. Reverentially turning the pages I understood what Oscar had tried to tell me about the book. The Pencil of LIght was one of three copies of the original; I was holding in my hands an equivalent, not the real thing, yet that didn’t diminish its effect on me. In fact it helped to confirm what I had come to understand photography to be; I’m not going to try to tell you what that is, it’s better told by Talbot, Stieglitz, Barthes and other luminary voices.

Allan Grainger, 2020