There are two major biographies of Talbot, each distinctly useful in its own way, and to be fair, both rather long in the tooth.  H.J.P. Arnold’s 1977 volume is a well-researched and well-documented classic biography and gives a fairly balanced view of the relationship of photography to Talbot’s other activities.  Gail Buckland’s 1980 book is much more visually oriented, with full colour illustrations and a section attempting to relate early American photography.  These books reflect not only their period but also the backgrounds of their individual authors. Arnold was a writer for The Financial Times and later founded Space Frontiers, Ltd., a marketing source for NASA images.  Gail Buckland is the author of numerous books and was the Curator of the Royal Photographic Society Collection.  H.J.P. Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of photography and man of science (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1979); Gail Buckland, Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980).


Although Talbot is best known as the British inventor of photography, he had a wide range of interests and accomplishments in fields as diverse as mathematics, botany and the study of Assyrian cuneiform. Experts in various fields examine his contributions in this volume. Edited by Mirjam Brusius, Katrina Dean, and Chitra Ramalingam. With essays by Mirjam Brusius, Chitra Ramalingam, Katrina Dean, Anne Secord, June Barrow-Green, Graham Smith, Herta Wolf, Vered Maimon, Larry J. Schaaf, Eleanor Robson, and Simon Schaffer, William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).


PhotographicArtOne hundred photographs representative of Talbot’s technical and artistic progress were reproduced on specially commissioned paper in full size and in full colour, closely matching the originals. At the time, this book represented a sampling in print of the goals of the present online Catalogue Raisonné. Larry J Schaaf, The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).


RecordsDawnTalbot’s photography was both an invention and an art.  Hundreds of pages of notes and notebooks survive that document his quest. Of these, his research notebooks P and Q give the clearest picture of his day to day thinking, especially indicating where the invention of photography took place within a wider context of philosophical searching.  His original pages are reproduced in facsimile in this volume, along with transcriptions and notes.  Larry J Schaaf, Records of the Dawn of Photography: Talbot’s Notebooks P & Q (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).


Dr Mike Weaver has long been active in Talbot studies and this book is the only attempt thus far to assemble a bibliography of all Talbot’s publications in diverse fields.  An eclectic selection of publications about Talbot is less complete.  Some of Talbot’s texts and some modern essays are also included.  Edited by Mike Weaver, Henry Fox Talbot: Selected Texts and Bibliography (Oxford: Clio Press, 1992).

Talbot’s personal and professional relationship with his mentor, Sir John Herschel, was critical to shaping the introduction of his new art.  Through extensive quotations from their correspondence, this text examines the rapidly unfolding events as the two men perceived them at the time, without the benefit of a historical rear view mirror.  Emphasised is the ‘pre-history’ of photography that set the stage for the explosive events of 1839.  Larry J Schaaf, Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot & the Invention of Photography  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).

Don’t let the title frighten the horses, for  Dr Mike Ware’s style seamlessly blends his professional background in chemistry, his artistry as a photographer and his clearly expressed prose with incisive wit, leavened with a wicked sense of humour and playful with words.  Although ostensibly a conservation study, this slim volume gives a solid grounding in just how Talbot’s photography worked.  Mike Ware, Mechanisms of Image Deterioration in Early Photographs: The Sensitivity to Light of W. H. F. Talbot’s Halide-fixed Images, 1834-1844 (London: Science Museum, 1994).

When Talbot’s only son, Charles Henry Talbot, died in 1916 he surprised his niece, Matilda Theresa Gilchrist-Clark (1871-1958) with the bequest of Lacock Abbey and all its contents. Known familiarly as Maudie, Henry’s granddaughter changed her surname to Talbot and was to become the last owner of Lacock Abbey before giving it to the National Trust.  Charmingly candid, her text closely follows her title as she steered the Abbey and its village through good times and bad.  There is very little about photography within but a great deal about the character of the person most responsible for preserving Talbot’s legacy.  Matilda Talbot, My life and Lacock Abbey (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1956).

Between 1844 and 1846, Talbot produced six fascicles of his seminal volume, The Pencil of Nature. Designed to demonstrate the range of applications of the art, each fascicle was illustrated with original photographic prints, each hand-made by Talbot and his associates.   His short but insightful text provides insight into how he viewed his art.  There is no original copy remaining in good condition.  In 1989, a limited edition facsimile was produced largely by hand in Italy, an idealised copy reproduced from the best surviving examples of individual plates and text.  Larry J Schaaf, Anniversary Facsimile of H. Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (New York: Hans P Kraus, Jr, Inc, 1989).  The plates from this production  can be examined online at Luminous Lint.


HoPOver the years, Schaaf has been compiling a census of surviving whole and partial copies of The Pencil of Nature. Since the original copies of The Pencil were assembled by hand, variations occurred and defects in the original binding and later owners’ actions led to bibliographic confusion about what constituted an authentic copy. This question is considered in a brief bibliographical summary and analysis. Potential copies and known missing copies are enumerated in the hopes of promoting their discovery in future. The most recent census, the third one, was published in 2012 in the journal History of Photography.

the most recent census (pdf)