The Miscellanea Photogenica series is a periodic one, designed to highlight smaller or more current stories. With the (very welcome) increased activity going on as a result of the beta release of the website, you may be seeing this series a bit more often.

Upcoming Changes in Our Publication Pattern

As announced recently, in response to your feedback on the current nature of the beta website we are now in the process of modifying our publication pattern.  As launched, records were being added one by one and only about five percent of the 25,000 item-level records are currently shown on the site.  This proved frustrating to you and just between us Brian and I are woefully behind in responding to your emails.  Many of the questions are about collections possibly overlooked or missing images.  Nearly all of these are in the core database (although you have provided some recent and very welcome additions) but they have not yet been put through the time-intensive process of preparing them for the web structure.  So, we are now in the process of converting the publication flow so that skeletal records of all 25,000 will be published.  These will initially be bare branches that outline the whole structure of the project.  Even though most of these will lack images and some details at first, they should give most users a better start on their research and we will be filling in the details just as fast as possible.  In the complex system that knits together the Bodleian’s extensive and growing digital resources, this apparently simple change requires some high level coding.  As a result, the website will be ‘down’ for a short period sometime in the near future for the transition and we’ll try to let you know when this is going to happen.  And then we will start adding the leaves to the bare branches.

Contributions From Our Readers


We have had a wonderful and extensive response from various readers already suggesting identifications, primarily of buildings and urban scenes, but also of artworks.  I’ll be trying to recognize these in upcoming blogs.  In the meantime,  Dr Stephen Harris of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford has been active in identifying Talbot’s photographic copies of botanical plates, a favourite subject.  (Identifying photograms of plants is notoriously difficult and I’ll be exploring that in a future blog).

There is a family of related negatives of such a botanical plate

which the combined efforts of Dr Harris and our own Brian Liddy led to identification in an 1843 publication

The text indicates that this plant was displayed at London’s Horticultural Society in April 1842 and Talbot, as a lifelong member, probably saw it there


Here is the coloured plate as published in the 1843 Botanical Register:

The plate is signed “Miss Drake, del”, who was Sarah Anne Drake (1803-1857), a well-known illustrator and a personal friend of John Lindley.

Just from the above publication, we now know that this group of negatives dates to sometime after April 1843.  At least one related negative was trimmed and printed.  The original plate was folded to fit into the volume and this crease mark is evident in all the negatives.

If we had just looked at the above negative, it would have been tempting to think that Talbot made a photogram by placing his paper directly beneath the original.  However, the size of the original coloured plate is considerably larger, proving the use of a camera.  Further evidence comes from the first brace of negatives farther above, where the plate is against some sort of elaborate but distracting decorative background.  This was obviously seen as harmless since it would have been trimmed off in preparation for the negative being printed.  Such a background is seen in a number of other negatives, but a particular one of these further intrigues me.

The chromolithographed covers of The Pencil of Nature were printed without a fascicle number or a price and are all dated 1844.  We don’t know exactly when these were first produced, presumably designed and printed by Owen Jones, but all evidence leads to sometime in the Spring of 1844.  Just to further confuse things, the red stone wore out sometime during the production of Part 4 (first issued 21 June 1845) and was replaced with a close variant, possibly copied by an apprentice.

The replacement stone had minor variations in the P and the N and in some other places.  From this, it is clear that the above negative was taken from a first printing of the cover.  Of course, an old one might have been lying around, but all these factors together imply that these negatives were likely made sometime in 1844, and therefore were likely to have been made at Nicolaas Henneman’s Reading Establishment, possibly as tests, possibly without the presence of Talbot himself.  Note that the left hand one of the first negatives has a distinctive marking – this is seen in quite a few negatives and is not in Henneman’s hand.  Was this the mark of Thomas Malone or another of Henneman’s staff and volunteer workers?

It is this type of correlation of data that is one function of the Catalogue Raisonné and as more and more of it goes online there will be ample opportunity for sharp-eyed readers to spot these.

Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds

Last week I posted some musings on my reactions to finally seeing Mat Collishaw’s augmented virtual reality exhibition, Thresholds.  In a public lecture not too long ago, I was accused by one audience member of being a ‘fact-based historian’ (for which I thanked him) so the idea of virtual reality is one that I am still struggling to get my head around.  With the help of the extensive research of Pete James, Mat has done a very interesting and to my mind very successful attempt to evoke the magic the public must have felt when they first saw Talbot’s photogenic drawings in August 1839 at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Birmingham.  There are a couple of new commentaries on Thresholds that I think you might find interesting.

Forgiving a few factual errors in favour of an intelligent reaction to the experience, I suggest that you have a read the excellent review in the online Frieze magazine of the show currently being presented at Somerset House in London.  It remains there until 11 June and if you are in the London area you should not miss it.

There is now a podcast posted featuring an interview with Mat Collishaw and including commentaries from Nicolas Byrne and Ed Lloyd of VMI Studios, who converted Mat’s imagination into the actual VR experience, Hans P Kraus, jnr, of New York, the dealer and collector who specializes in Talbot, and a few words from yours truly as well..

From London the present travel schedule is at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from 22 June to 6 August (where there will be supplementary displays), then at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire from 9 September to 29 October (where you should be able to feel the ghost of Henry Talbot).  Although other venues are being considered, in 2018 it will be at the Bodleian Library in Oxford  from 9 March to 15 April and at the Science + Media Museum in Bradford from 9 July to 2 September.  Mat is constantly ‘tweaking’ the experience and given the rapid pace of technological updating these days I wonder if some of the software and hardware will evolve during this schedule?


Finally, please keep those suggestions and questions flowing in, either by the weblink or by email. If you encounter a glitch, or some critical search parameter has not yet been included, let us know. This is a crowd-sourcing effort and you have the opportunity to shape its outcome. Once again, many thanks for your patience during this period of growth.


Larry J Schaaf


• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at larry.schaaf@bodleian.ox.ac.uk  WHFT, Wild Fennel, photogenic drawing negative, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005.100.260, Schaaf 757. •  Nicolaas Henneman?, Copies of the plate of Peristeria Humboldti from the April 1843 Botanical Register, calotype negatives, ca. 1844, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-1060 (Schaaf 648) and 1937-1058 (Schaaf 646).   •  Admission token for the Horticultural Society of London, Fox Talbot Archive, the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.  •  Nicolaas Henneman?, Copy of the plate of Peristeria Humboldti from the April 1843 Botanical Register, calotype negative and salted paper print, ca. 1844, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-1059 and 1937-1061/1; Schaaf 647. •   Nicolaas Henneman?, Copy of the first printing of the cover for The Pencil of Nature, calotype negative, ca. 1844, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-1074; Schaaf 1604.