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Australia Now: Benjamin Stone-Herbert - Nature's Pencil

by Claire Monneraye


The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.

(Preliminary note, The Pencil of Nature, Henry Fox Talbot)

 Benjamin Stone-Herbert’s new exhibition draws its title from the prominent work The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot. Published between 1844 and 1846, it was the first published book illustrated with photographs. Paying tribute to Talbot (1800-1877), Benjamin’s researches are inspired by the work of this pioneer and precursor to photographic processes who made key contributions to the development of photography as an artistic form.

For this new body of works, Benjamin went to a remote coastal site where he camped for a week, slowly immersing himself in nature before carefully selecting the landscapes and flora he wanted to keep a memory and capture an image of. The use of the oldest and simplest techniques of photography reflects the artist’s desire not only to record and document the landscape but also to depict and convey a meditative experience. From the use of a pinhole camera – made out of a large 25L olive tin – to the salt printing and photogram making, slowness and immediate interaction with nature are inherent to the artist’s introspective journey. The light passes through the single small aperture of the pinhole camera – an otherwise lightproof box – exposing for between 10 and 40 minutes an 8×10 inch sheet of film placed inside the simple camera for each picture.

From his collection of negatives, the artist then spent between 2 and 3 hours in his darkroom to print the unique images of these moments. The salt prints are made by coating the paper with a solution of sodium chloride – sea salt in this case – and a solution of silver nitrate. The 8×10 inch negative is laid on top of the dry coated paper, under glass and exposed to the sun.

While the solution darkens under the light, the image is forming. The print is then toned, fixed, cleared of any excess chemistry and washed. From his collection of flora, the artist created photograms by simply placing the fragile objects directly onto the surface of the paper made light sensitive with the same solution of silver chloride. Photography without a camera…

Nature exists in every physical and intangible facet of the works. Inviting the viewer to share his contemplative journey into the wild, Benjamin offers a beautiful occasion to be amazed by traditional image making processes. Suspended between time and space, his images are drawings of light that reveal the magical qualities of photography.

The exhibition Nature's Pencil was presented from 24 July to 5 August 2014 at Gaffa Gallery, Sydney as part of the curatorial program NTRAUE (nature) curated by Claire Monneraye.


Benjamin Stone-Herbert is an emerging artist who has been exhibiting since 2009. His practice is concerned with the materiality of photography, light’s affect on these materials and the process of experimentation with chemistry. Working mainly with 19th century techniques that date back to the birth of photography, his unique photographs offer the opportunity to see through the eyes of another time. With an emphasis on the hand made, unique photographic object, his work provokes the reconsideration of photography in today’s digital world.

Benjamin has worked as a printer, photographer’s assistant, technical assistant and has had a darkroom for 10 years. He has studied at Universität der Künste in Berlin and is completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours this year at Sydney College of the Arts. Benjamin has had a number of solo exhibitions in Sydney and has been exhibited in Berlin and San Francisco. 


Benjamin is on show at M. Contemporary from 6 to 21 December 2014, as part of the exhibition Evolve.



Images 1 2 3: Untitled, 2014, Salt prints onto 300gsm BFK Rives cotton rag © Benjamin Stone-Herbert

Images 4 5: Installation images Nature's Pencil Gaffa Gallery 2014 © Benjamin Stone-Herbert