William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) created some of the first photographs ever made and is regarded as the British ‘father of photography’. He also recognised that negatives, with their ability to make multiple prints on paper, would define the central path of photography right through to the digital age. During his career, Talbot and his collaborators created more than 4,500 unique or distinct images; approximately 25,000 of his original negatives and multiple prints from them are known to survive worldwide and are held across a range of international institutions and private collections.
Now, the Bodleian Libraries have launched a web-based resource that brings together the complete works of the British photographic pioneer. Currently featuring over 1,000 early Victorian photographic images, the catalogue will grow to 25,000 images by 2018. Here are some highlights…
The Open Door, [wide shadow], April 1844
This is 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 title by Talbot’s mother, Lady Elisabeth Feilding, who was actively interested in her son’s photographic endeavours. (National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library)
Articles of Glass [on three shelves], June 1844
This is another of Talbot’s most famous photographs, featuring glassware placed on three shelves which were set up outside. Photographing glass gave Talbot the opportunity to experiment with light and reflection. The glassware depicted in this photograph is held by the Bodleian Libraries – part of the recently-acquired personal archive of Talbot. (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
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 called ‘The Fruit Sellers’. It was taken in the grounds of Lacock Abbey and required the sitters to hold a pose for up to 10 seconds. It was possibly taken by Rev Richard Calvert Jones (1804-1877). (Hans P Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs)
Part of Queens College, Oxford, probably 4 September 1843
This view of Queen’s College, Oxford, looking up to Queen’s Lane, remains largely unchanged today. The church in the background is St Peter’s of the East. The detail and clarity of this negative makes it one of Talbot’s most ‘photo-like’ images, and he selected it to be the first plate in his work ‘The Pencil of Nature’. (National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library)
Lacock Abbey towards Sharington Tower, c. 1844
Talbot took some of his earliest photos in and around his family home of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, which is now a National Trust property. (Hans P Kraus, Jr Fine Photographs)
Westminster from the Hungerford Market – London across the Thames, June 1841
Taken in June 1841 from Talbot’s flat in Cecil Street, London, this snapshot provides a unique view of Westminster before new buildings and bridges made it the iconic skyline we recognise today. Westminster Abbey (in the distance on the right-hand side) dominates the landscape as it would have done in medieval times. The Houses of Parliament cannot be seen as they burned to the ground on 16 October 1834.
The rebuilding of Parliament began in 1840 when the first stone was laid and was not finished until 1858. Even then, ‘Big Ben’ was not installed until 1859. The original Westminster Bridge of 1750, visible on the left of Talbot’s photograph, was replaced in 1854. The Hungerford Market in the foreground was replaced by the Charing Cross Bridge in 1859, transforming the view as photographed by Talbot. (National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library)
The full catalogue of annotated digitised images of Talbot’s photographs is available to the public at foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.