News
7 january 2013

Bodleian Libraries seek support to acquire the Talbot Archive

Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot
Negative of William Henry Fox Talbot, from the Fox Talbot Archive, courtesy of Hans P. Kraus Jr.
The Bodleian Libraries announced today that they have been awarded £1.2 million by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) towards the acquisition of the Personal Archive of William Henry Fox Talbot.

William Henry Fox Talbot, the pioneer of photography, was a driving force in the nation’s scientific revolution, and one of the great British innovators of the nineteenth century. He laid the foundation for modern (pre-digital) photography with his invention of the negative/positive process, his discovery of the latent image that could be developed out, and his success in fixing a developed image. Talbot’s innovations have led to the pervasiveness of the visual image in modern culture, and have radically changed the way people see the world.

Now, a unique opportunity has arisen for the Bodleian Libraries to secure this remarkable man’s personal archive for generations to come. This collection offers unique insights into the origins of photography – and the private, social, and intellectual life of an extraordinary man, whose genius still lives on today through the visual images that we now take for granted in our daily lives. The personal archive provides missing pieces of the jigsaw of what we know of Talbot’s life: it highlights the fundamental influence of the family on the man and his work.

Containing an abundance of little-studied material, including unpublished diaries, research notebooks, correspondence, scientific work, and artworks, the Archive will assist scholars and the wider public to build a more comprehensive picture of Talbot the man, and thereby to arrive at a better understanding of his ground-breaking photographic work – for the first time made available to all.

The Archive contains pieces key to our heritage, including some of the first family photographs and the earliest surviving photograph by a woman. It is of unparalleled importance in understanding the background to Talbot’s pioneering The Pencil of Nature – the first commercially printed book to contain photographic illustration (a milestone in publishing history). It shows the influence Talbot’s family surroundings had on the composition of, and inspiration for, his photographic discoveries and includes some of the artefacts photographed for The Pencil.

Alongside intimate family insights, the Archive contains documents which illuminate the community of early photographers in which Talbot and his work were so pivotal. In addition to fascinating personal insights, this unique set of documents provides vital background and context for the scientific papers and correspondence held at the National Media Museum and the British Library, enabling a deeper scholarship of the history of photography than has yet been possible.

This important archive is being sold for £2.2 million and the Bodleian Libraries have until the end of February 2013 to raise the remaining funds to secure it.

The Bodleian hopes to save the Archive for generations of scholars to come, placing it at the heart of Oxford: a city that inspired Talbot in his own photographic endeavour, and was the subject of many of the earliest photographic images. Please give your support to help secure this important collection and bring it back to the UK.