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EXCLUSIVE: Talbot scholars celebrate three major initiatives

At a public meeting held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library today, Head Librarian Richard Ovenden (right) made the first announcement of three initiatives that will support William Henry Fox Talbot studies in the United Kingdom and internationally. At the same time they will make the Bodleian central to Talbot studies and the lead of the world’s three principal Talbot archives held at the National Media Museum, Bradford, the British Library, London, and the Bodleian, Oxford.

Ovenden was able to announce, firstly, the completion of the acquisition of the Talbot family archive for the Bodleian which completes the £2.2 million purchase, saving the archive for the nation. (Click here for the previous BPH report on the archive appeal).  

Secondly, he introduced Dr Mirjam Brusius (left) as an Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Bodleian. Brusius will lead a renewed focus on the history of photography in Oxford, centred on the Bodleian and will lead work on cataloguing, digitising and interpreting the Talbot archive.

Thirdly, he announced that Professor Larry Schaaf’s long mooted project of preparing a catalogue raisonné of Talbot’s photography had secured funding and would be housed at the University of Oxford and Bodleian Library. He described this as a ‘major scholarly venture’. Schaaf, who is the world’s foremost Talbot scholar, had long had hopes of preparing such a catalogue.

The catalogue raisonné, along with the recent cataloguing of the British Library, Bodleian and National Media Museum Talbot holdings, and the availability of Talbot’s online letters, has the potential to radically inform and revise Talbot’s role in the development of negative/positive photography and will help support a new chronology of his work.

Schaaf, speaking to the audience, (right) said the catalogue raisonné would allow researchers to ‘associate things we’ve never seen before…[and] reveal variations  never studied before’. Schaaf, who has been researching Talbot for more than forty years, has produced a series of landmark books, catalogues essays and papers on Talbot, his circle and his photography. He is project director for the Talbot letters project at now hosted by De Montfort University. He paid tribute to past Talbot historians including Harold White who’s work had prepared the ground for his own and to Matilda Talbot, who did much to ensure his legacy was preserved.

Schaaf currently has some 25,000 Talbot negatives and positives recorded in a DOS-based database and one of the new project’s tasks will be to migrate this data to a new platform that can also support images.

He concluded his presentation by saying, partly tongue-in-cheek, that ‘Digital photography is Talbot’s invention’.

More information will be made available by the Bodleian Library shortly. 

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