The Bodleian Libraries is continuing its cyberexpansion with the launch of an online catalogue of the works of British ‘father of photography’, William Henry Fox Talbot.
The catalogue already features over 1000 early Victorian photographic images, and plans will see this expand tto the complete catalogue of 25,000 images by 2018.
Very few arts are so well documented as William Henry Fox Talbot’s invention of photography. Talbot conceived of the art of photography in 1833, achieved his first images by 1834 and revealed the art to the public in 1839. By the time he ceased taking photographs in 1846, Talbot and his close associates had created more than 4500 distinct images.
[Image right:Portrait of Talbot taken in the 1850s as a wet plate negative by Ivan Szabo (1822-1858). Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford]
And miraculously, much of this prodigious output still survives. Collectively, they map out the technical and aesthetic progress of the new art from the first days of its infancy to the eve of its maturity. Equally, they dramatically document the emergence of Talbot himself as the first photographic artist. Trapped in silver are cities that have changed, people long since passed on, objects of virtue and those of everyday utility, timeless scenes of light and shade and much more.
[Image: Nelson’s Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, London, first week of April 1844. Salted paper print. Credit: Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs.]
Now the public can discover and search through annotated digitised images of Talbot’s photographs gathered from collections around the world, under Project Director Professor Larry J Schaaf, who is also Visiting Professor of Art at the University of Oxford
‘”There has been nothing like this before in the history of photography,” says the Professor. “This catalogue raisonné of Talbot's work will help unlock the enormous artistic, documentary and technical information embodied in these images and allow researchers to find out even more about these works.”
Mannekin challenge 1845: [Image:The Fruit Sellers, probably 9 September 1845, Lacock Abbey. This posed shot shows Talbot bringing together family, servants and collaborators to make a tableau scene of ‘The Fruit Sellers’. It was taken on a sunny day in the grounds of Lacock Abbey and required the sitters to hold a pose for up to 10 seconds. Salted paper print. Possibly taken by Rev Richard Calvert Jones (1804 - 1877). Credit: Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs]
The images in the Talbot Catalogue Raisonné are accompanied by extensive cross-referencing to other sources, such as Talbot’s notebooks held in the British Library and the 10,000 Talbot letters available online at foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk, a project at De Montfort University also directed by Professor Schaaf. In 2014, the Bodleian acquired the personal archive of Talbot, which includes original manuscripts, correspondence, family diaries and scientific instruments. The archive is also rich in physical objects depicted in Talbot’s photographs, for example the actual glassware depicted in his famous ‘Articles of Glass’ published in The Pencil of Nature.
The Bodleian Libraries have spent the last two years translating these images into a modern online form. Launching with more than 1,000 images, these will be added to weekly until the entire 25,000 negatives and prints known worldwide have been published. Users can search images by photographer, title, collection, provenance, date, genre, geographic location and keywords then tag, save or compare images and create, annotate and store their own collections or search results, all free of charge. Since many of these primordial images survive in a faded state, they can be enhanced for study onscreen by simple tools that magnify the images and adjust the contrast and density. Negatives lacking a print will be accompanied by a digital positive.
[Image: one of Talbot’s most iconic and instantly recognisable images, taken at his home Lacock Abbey in April 1844, after many months spent perfecting his technique and the layout of the scene. It was given its poetic title 'The Open Door' by his mother, Lady Elisabeth Feilding, who was actively interested in her son’s photographic endeavours. Salted paper print. Credit: National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library.]
Importantly users can view surviving negatives alongside the prints they are made from, making this the first online catalogue to make the connection between corresponding Talbot prints/images no matter where in the world the original print is held. For example, users to the site can see an image of a negative held in the Smithsonian alongside salt prints made from it that are held in the J. Paul Getty Museum, the British Library and other private collections.
Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, notes that the new online catalogue “exemplifies the important role of the Bodleian Libraries and cultural institutions in creating digital resources that allow unprecedented virtual access to collections.”
The Talbot Catalogue Raisonné has been developed with the support of the William Talbott Hillman Foundation, The Polonsky Foundation, the Charina Endowment Fund as well as numerous private donors.
See the collection at foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk