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Fox Talbot museum acquires James Fenton collection

A collection of early photographic technology and images is being transferred from the British Film Institute to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock in Wiltshire, thanks to a £36,100 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and support from Art Council England’s Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Materials (PRISM) fund.

The collection comprises hundreds of cameras, optical devices and toys from the eighteenth century to the late 1980s as well as nearly 3,500 photographic images ranging from the earliest processes through to the first part of the twentieth century. It was assembled by James Fenton, a founder member of the RPS Historical Group who exhibited it as the Fenton Museum of Photography in the Isle of Man for many years  After it closed it was purchased by the Museum of the Moving Image, which closed in 1999. Since then, the collection has remained in storage, but with the support of the British Film Institute, Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, it will now be brought back into the light at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock.

The museum, situated in the grounds of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, celebrates the achievement of William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot captured the world’s first photographic negative at the abbey in 1835 and invented the calotype process, paving the way for photographic processes on film still used today.

As Britain’s birthplace of photography, Lacock is the perfect place for James Fenton’s collection, and the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and PRISM means that this unique collection can be properly cared for. Volunteers at the museum will work with skilled conservators to catalogue and digitalise the 4,500 objects in the collection in front of the eyes of the visitors, bringing the history of photography to life in a completely new way.

Roger Watson, curator of the Fox Talbot Museum, said, ‘We are hugely grateful to all of our supporters; the British Film Institute, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Arts Council England. With their support, we are better able to tell the history of photography, to preserve a crucial part of our history, and to care for this incredible collection in the way it deserves.’

Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said, ‘HLF is so pleased to support this project to bring together and digitise the wonderful Fenton collection of photographic material. Thanks to National Lottery players, this internationally significant collection, which shows the evolution of photography, will now be conserved and exhibited, with opportunities for a wide range of people to learn new skills.

The Fenton collection will move to the Fox Talbot Museum before the end of the year, and 2017 will bring an exciting programme of displays, conservation and photographic demonstrations, ensuring that this extraordinary collection is preserved and presented for ever, for everyone.

• The Fox Talbot Museum recently advertised for a Project Officer to work on the collection. 

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