Pilgrimage: A Photographer’s Journey to One of the Birthplaces of Photography

If you’re at all interested in the history of photography, Henry Fox Talbot is a pioneer that you need to be familiar with. Although French pioneer Louis Daguerre is often credited with being “the father of photography,” Talbot, based in England, had announced his own photographic process in the same year. Daguerre’s daguerreotype process dominated the industry early on, but Talbot’s process — one that involved creating photographic negatives and then printing photos with them — eventually became the standard model used in the 20th century.

The photograph seen above was shot by Talbot in 1835, and is the oldest known surviving photographic negative. It shows one of the south-facing lattice windows in Talbot’s house, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, England.

Photographer Sam Cornwell recently decided to embark on a pilgrimage to this site that played a huge role in the beginnings of photography. He spent three days traveling from his home in Hayling, Portsmouth to Lacock Abbey, and brought along his mobile darkroom — a trailer attached to the back of his car. One of his goals was to recreate the first negative as a wet-plate photograph to keep as a memento of the pilgrimage.

Cornwell also decided to make an intimate short documentary-style film titled Pilgrimage in order to document his journey, enlisting the help of a colleague named Lloyd Miller to record footage with a handheld camera during each step of the trip.

Here’s the 30-minute piece that resulted:

Cornwell writes,

The lattice windows disappointingly are not the main attraction to Lacock Abbey. Instead, Roger Watson, curator of the Fox-Talbot museum tells me, droves of ‘Harry Potter’ fans come to visit the house because part of the long running movie franchise had been filmed there.

[…] The National Trust who runs the abbey had made the decision to not have curtains covering up these windows because of their significance, making a photographer’s approach to them almost symbolic; almost religious. I spoke to a steward on staff at the time of my excitement and he told me that the majority of tourists would walk past the windows not realising their importance, whereas every now and again a photographer would be seen paying homage to them.

He referred to the windows as “A Photographer’s Mecca” and indeed it was.

  • Angela May

    This is amazing – Sam knows his stuff and when I watched this originally I had goosebumps. I can’t think of any other person who’d have put so much into this project but I can only imagine the satisfaction achieved from completing it.

    Well done to all involved.

    What’s next on the list?

  • Jan Hopgood

    Well done Sam, this is really fantastic. I love how you put your all into every project that you do. This is really interesting, even to an old hobby photographer. :)
    I am always waiting to see what you come up with next.
    Congratulations to you and everyone else involved in the production.

  • GemTrem

    Really interesting video and very enjoyable to watch, Really get a sense of who Sam is from the mix of family and location shots.

    Does make me wonder though, what other photographic pilgrimages could you go on and which would you choose?

  • ChristopherAlan Mitchell

    When Sam contacted me with this short film I didn’t know what to expect, I was deeply engrossed into the whole thing ! Sam is a man full of a lot of energy and this film clearly shows, but also shows you to a side of Sam which no one has seen before and is very important, I came out feeling he’s opened up completely and is not afraid of anything that stands in his way, it’s not about Talbot in this video its all about Sam, I’m really excited for another film from this series, plus, I would love to hear more questions asked to Sam from the cameraman as it really helps the viewer, I rate this 99% thumbs up (1% being that camera clicking :P)

  • Chris S. Wells


  • Denver Wedding Photographer

    Great and interesting video. Thanks for sharing.

  • John Soulnier

    This has been an inspiration that makes you aware, that you are not alone in your relentless pursuit to understand why we are so compelled to find purpose, for our obsession to be a photographer. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tom Bryan

    Now i can visit as a Potter fanboy and a photographer!

  • Cathie Tranent

    Well done Sam and Lloyd! Who would have thought an orange digital clock would lead to something like this?? And the next iconic photograph to be reproduced would be??

  • JosephRT

    The reasons you state above are also why I have a grimace on my face every time I read more bad news about Kodak or Polaroid.

  • Yamanoor Srihari

    Technically Niepce made the first photograph, and he should be the father of photography. After all that is from whom Daguerre learned his own skills. None of this is meant to discount Talbot’s great contribution to photography. Thumbs up for a job well done. I will share this on my photography page on Facebook!

  • Denise Fotheringham

    What a wonderful pilgrimage and photographic adventure. Can I say that I also love the fact that Mrs Cornwall is learning to process and print colour in her own darkroom. Totally inspirational. Indigo is a very lucky boy! Congratulations, Sam on living your passion.