Talbot? with print frames in the sunlight, South Front, Lacock Abbey

There are very few arts, indeed very few human endeavours, so well documented as is William Henry Fox Talbot’s invention of photography. Talbot (1800-1877) conceived of the art of photography in 1833, achieved his first images by 1834, and revealed the art to the public in 1839. By the time he ceased taking photographs in 1846, Talbot and his close associates had created more than 4,500 distinct images. Miraculously, much of this prodigious output still survives in public and private collections around the world. These collections map out the technical and aesthetic progress of the new art from the first days of its infancy to the eve of its maturity. Trapped in silver are cities that have changed and people long since passed on. They are a window onto another time.

Over a span of four decades, Professor Schaaf has examined many thousands of early photographs by Talbot and his contemporaries. Founded and directed by Schaaf, the Catalogue Raisonné project seeks to make this corpus of material freely available to scholars and to the general public. The total known surviving output of Talbot and his close collaborators now comprises more than 25,000 prints and negatives.

Much of Talbot’s research was done at his Wiltshire home of Lacock Abbey, itself a rich source of photographic subject matter. The productions at Lacock were often group efforts, defying attempts to assign specific authorship. His wife Constance helped with the preparations, while his formidable mother, Lady Elisabeth Feilding, was outspoken about his choice of subjects. She also ensured that his photographs received wide circulation in high society. Talbot’s valet, Nicolaas Henneman, became so involved in the new art that in 1843 he left to set up the first photographic printing business, in the bustling railway and market town of Reading.

By the mid-1840s, Talbot was collecting and purchasing negatives from his cousin Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, his artist friend the Rev. Calvert Jones, and his travel companion the Rev. George Bridges. The work of Jones and Bridges has so often been confused with that of Talbot that it is necessary to incorporate these as well. The period covered by this catalogue is from the first successes in 1834 until the late 1840s. It will encompass work known to be by Talbot or photographs commonly associated with him. The early foundations of the project were covered in this blog.

The early foundations of the project were covered in this blog.


• Questions or Comments? Please contact • WHFT, South Front, Lacock Abbey, Man with Print Frames (detail), salt print from a calotype negative, early 1840s. Photographic History Collection, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, 3864.E. Schaaf 1262.