Mary Anning (1799-1847) and the photograph The Geologists ascribed to William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) - NMS Research Repository
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Mary Anning (1799-1847) and the photograph The Geologists ascribed to William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877)

2015

Abstract

A photograph of 1843, titled The Geologists, has recently been suggested to portray Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, and Henry De la Beche of the Geological Survey. This, and another of the same outcrop, were taken about 1843 at Chudleigh, Devon, almost certainly by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). The photographs are reviewed in the context of contemporary geology, costume and photography. The female is most unlikely to be Anning. A suggestion that De la Beche commissioned the picture as a trial of landscape photography, with the Survey in mind, cannot be confirmed. His interest, so far as it is known, was in photographing specimens to help prepare published illustrations. In the context of Talbot's work, The Geologists remains ambiguous. It can be interpreted as a whimsically named joke photograph, or a serious artistic tableau intended to show geological activity, just as much as a pair of actual geologists. The locality might have been selected as a popular tourist spot, with accessible and romantic scenery, rather than, or as well as, for its geological interest. The Geologists remains an intriguing photograph, perhaps the earliest purportedly of West Country geological activity, or a woman engaged in geology.

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