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In describing The Open Door, arguably the most famous plate in the his 1844-46 illustrated treatise on photography, The Pencil of Nature, William Henry Fox Talbot wrote: “We have sufficient authority in the Dutch school of art, for taking as subjects of representation scenes of daily and familiar occurrence. A painter’s eye will often be arrested when ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A causal gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings.”

The “picturesque imaginings” evoked here were no mere accident. Talbot returned to this scenes year after year, attempting at least four versions of it. The image is neatly divided into thirds, with alternating light and dark bands across its width; depth is added by the three planes of the broom, the doorway, and the window in the distance. The Literary Gazette expressed its wonder at the photograph of “a broom and a lantern, perfect in reflected form, and rich in tone of colour. A back window in the darker central tint is deliciously bright, yet dim and faithful to the reality.”

Larry Schaaf, William Henry Fox Talbot, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002), 84. ©2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.

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