British photographic history

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Lecture: Out of the Shadows: Henry Talbot, invention & historiography / 26 September 2016

William Henry Fox Talbot first conceived of the art of photography in 1833 and achieved results by 1834. However, it was not until Daguerre announced his process in January 1839 that Talbot was prompted to make his method public.  The two approaches were radically different.  Daguerre produced beautifully detailed unique images on silvered sheets of copper.  Talbot’s photographs were technically inferior, but he conceived of the idea of a negative that could produce multiple prints on paper. In the end, Talbot’s more versatile approach was to define the mainstream of photography right down to the digital age.  

The resources available to the historian for these two men are also radically different.  Only a handful of Daguerre images and Daguerre letters survive and no research notebooks.  For Talbot, there are more than 10,000 letters, hundreds of notebooks and more than 25,000 negatives and prints surviving worldwide.  Around fifteen years ago Professor Larry Schaaf made full transcriptions of the 10,000 letters available online.  However, to have put 25,000 images in a research structure with 1990s technology would have ‘broken the web’.  Today, with advanced technology, the online Catalogue Raisonné of Talbot’s photographs is being prepared for the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  Both the letters and the photographs have implications for the history of photography, conservation, and for historians in many fields.

Larry Schaaf will talk about Talbot at on behalf of Le Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation et la Fondation des Sciences du Patrimoine on 26 September at 4pm at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (in the l'auditorium de la Grande Galerie de l'Evolution, 36, rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, 75005 Paris). The presentation will be given in English.

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