A picture-perfect trip back in time

Local photographer makes the most of his dream vacation to England by capturing pinhole images at historic site

MARTIN MORANTE stood before the Oriel Window at Lacock Abbey in England , the subject of the first photograph ever taken in 1835. Abov right, Morante took a photograph of an abbey cloister using his pinhole camera. Parts of several Harry Potter movies have been filmed at the abbey.
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

When Martin Morante’s wife suggested they take a trip to England, he immediately knew the one place in Great Britain he wanted to visit.

The Tower of London? Westminster Abbey? The house where Paul McCartney grew up?

None of the above.

The site Morante had his eyes and heart set on was Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum in Wiltshire in southwest England.

“It has been on my bucket list for a long time,” he said. “I knew whenever I got a chance to go to England, I could not make the trip without stopping there.”

Morante’s interest in the abbey is that it’s considered the birthplace of photography, of which Morante is an avid student and practitioner.

The museum celebrates the life of William Henry Fox Talbot, who in the early 1800s created the negative-positive process that became the basis of film photography.

“I’m a big admirer of the guy,” Morante said.

What’s believed to be the oldest existing photograph was taken by Talbot in 1835 of the latticed Oriel Window at the abbey. “It’s not a very popular site and it’s a little out of the way,” Morante said.

Morante is such a fan and student of Talbot that he chooses to take photographs essentially the same way Talbot did, using what’s called a pinhole camera. It’s essentially a box with a small hole, not a lens, on one side through which light enters, leaving an image on photographic paper.

Many of Morante’s photographs have been shown at exhibits locally as well as in Milwaukee and New York.

Exposure times are extraordinarily long compared to modern cameras, lasting up to 20 minutes or more. The images are shimmery, in black and white, and lacking sharply defined shapes produced by modern photography.

Morante and his wife, Dawn Arredondo, who live in Random Lake, made the trip in August and were there for 16 days, visiting London, the Jurassic Coast, Dorset, Dover and Edinburgh in Scotland.

“But the one place I could not wait to set foot in was Lacock Abbey,” he said.

Morante, who is an assistant librarian at the Oscar Grady Public Library in Saukville and a board member of the Ozaukee County Historical Society, even made a pinhole camera especially for the trip, adding to a collection of such cameras.

Once at the abbey, he discovered the abbey is famous among a much younger crowd as the site where many scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

“There were a lot of kids there,” he said.

He was given permission to set up his camera. The abbey staff was as interested in Morante’s work as he is and allowed him to set up his camera inside the security rope so he could photograph the Oriel Window undisturbed by other tourists during the 35-to-45-minute exposure.

People were intrigued by his camera, he said.

“They were fascinated because they had never seen anything like it. It’s just light shining through a hole. It’s a window into time,” he said.

Talbot is less well-known than his French contemporary, Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype photographic process. But Talbot was just as influential, if not more so, Morante, 43, said, saying Talbot was less of a self-promoter.

“The story of Talbot is one I really like to share with people,” he said. “He only cared about being able to move something forward and not concerned so much about the recognition,” Morante said. “I really love photography.”

A native of Uruguay, who came to the United States in 2001 and studied at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Morante said he hopes to start a program at the library to encourage other people to pursue their creative interests through a “Maker’s Club,” with the slogan, “be inspired, be inspiring.”

Photos from Morante’s trip will be on exhibit at 6 p.m. Friday, April 17, at the Lois Buley Wirth Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St., Milwaukee.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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