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William Henry Fox Talbot, 'The Pencil of Nature', 1844. Museum no. L.149-1939

William Henry Fox Talbot, 'The Pencil of Nature', 1844. Museum no. L.149-1939

Photographic books are almost as old as photography itself. Indeed, one of the inventors of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot, was also author of one of the very first books to include photographs, The Pencil of Nature (1844).

Today, the printed page is where we most frequently encounter photographs, but until recently, little attention had been paid to the importance of the book to the history of photography.

Many photographers work in series, and the book, rather than the photographic print, is their preferred mode of presentation. Photographs take on new meanings when juxtaposed in imaginative layouts, or when combined with text, and many photographic books are the result of collaboration between photographers, designers and writers.

The book can function as a portable exhibition, bringing photographs to a wide audience and allowing viewers the freedom to return to them at leisure. Viewing photographs on the pages of books is often a more intimate experience than seeing them as framed object. Books are meant to be handled, their covers opened, their pages turned.

The Museum has been collecting photographic books since 1852. The images below represent a small selection from the V&A's holdings. Many more may be seen and handled on request in both the National Art Library and the Prints and Drawings Study Room.

This text was originally written to accompany the exhibition Libraries of Light: Photographic Books from the V&A Collection on display at the V&A South Kensington between 24 April 2008 and 19 April 2009.

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