an occasional series of tasty morsels that cross my desk


This has been an exciting week in Lake Wobegon, as Garrison Keillor would say.  The response to the launch has been most gratifying, both in terms of readership and especially in providing useful feedback.  Many of the comments have been about matters of fact (we have an alternative-fact filter installed) and we are updating these records as fast as possible.  Other comments have been more about the structure, including possible refinements to the search engine and visual tweaks to make the site more intuitive to use – some of these involve re-writing the underlying code and will take longer.  Please keep up the good work and will inject your thoughts at early stage.

I wish that we could include a fancy progress meter on the site – may I remind you that so far fewer than 5% of the nearly 25,000 records have been posted so far.  Please don’t let your excitement taper off but also please be patient.

A common concern is centered around just what is included in the Catalogue.  Any photographic production by Talbot, negative or print, is automatically in.  Sadly, for practical reasons, his photographic engraving and photoglyphic engravings are not at this time.  It is usually impossible to identify works by the female members of the family so they are included.  The early productions by Nicolaas Henneman were done in conjunction with Henry and must be included.  Some of Henneman’s later studio work is also included when Talbot gave advice or made arrangements.  The work of the Rev Calvert R Jones and that of the Rev George Bridges was often confused with the master’s work and will be included.  More information on scope and content is included in this recent blog.

Happy Birthday to Anna Atkins

16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871

 Of the various early photographers that Sir John Herschel introduced to me to, a large proportion happened to be women. Perhaps this selection was biased by Herschel’s support and upbringing by his aunt, the astronomer Caroline Herschel, equally influenced by his supremely happy marriage to Maggie.  Also, Herschel embraced the idea that the major truths of matters often resided outside the mainstream.  Anna Atkins immediately turned to photography to accurately record her extensive collection of ‘the flowers of the sea’, using Herschel’s cyanotype process not only for its simplicity but also for its sympathetic background color.

Atkins and Talbot shared a passion for illustrated botanical books and photography promised to encourage that.  One of her first copies of British Algæ was reserved for Talbot, neatly wrapped in paper and sealed with wax.

Since Tuesday (3.14) was National Pi Day, it seems to be a good time to touch on a question that I hear often.  Just what would Henry have thought of digital photography?  My personal feeling is that he would have been intrigued, perhaps even gobsmacked, but that he would have found the juncture of the terms uncomfortable.  Henry’s first real scholarly work was in mathematics and he would have both understood and had been impressed by the algorithms that massaged the numbers in order to trick our eye into seeing a picture.  Talbot’s underlying fascination with photography was that Nature used her own laws to create analogue images.  There was a solid basis in physics behind each aspect of the image.  No human hand – no amount of human calculating power – defined the outlines and tones of Nature’s drawing’s.  Talbot might have turned to digital photography to aid in his experiments in the physical sciences and might even have used it as a tool.   But I cannot imagine that he would have considered digital “a little bit of magic realised.”


Larry J Schaaf


• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at  • Calvert R Jones, 60.  Colosseum, Rome, 2nd Series, salted paper print from a calotype negative, Spring 1846, Bruce & Delaney Lundberg Collection; Schaaf 3124. • Anna Atkins, Dictyota Dichotoma, in the Young State & in Fruit, cyanotype negative photogram, in a copy of British Algæ; Cyanotype Impressions, 1844, The Linnean Society, London.  •   Anna Atkins, wrapper for a copy of British Algæ that she presented to WHFT; title page from British Algæ; Cyanotype Impressions; both Fox Talbot Collection, The British Library, London. •  WHFT, Leaves, photogenic drawing negative, ca. 1839, John Dillwyn Llewelyn Collection, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford; Schaaf 4195.  Digitally overlaid on a page from WHFT’s Notebook L,  the Fox Talbot Collection of the British Library, London.  •  WHFT’s quote from Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing or the Process by which Natural Objects may be made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil, read before the Royal Society 31 January 1839; and published under the same title (London: published privately, printed by R. & J.E. Taylor, 1839).