A Catalogue Raisonné
While the full extent of William Henry Fox Talbot's efforts in photography has yet to be defined, his output in the first few years of photography was prodigious. Talbot also worked closely with several people and much of this work has become intermixed over the years.
The Catalogue Raisonné of Talbot & his circle is a long-term project designed to locate, identify and catalogue the visual works emanating from the inventor of photography on paper. The database presently contains item-level entries on more than 15,000 negatives and prints in collections worldwide. Each item in this catalogue is identified by a range of information, including historic and traditional titles, associations with Talbot's texts and correspondence, physical characteristics such as size and watermarks, and collection information such as institutional numbers and provenance. Each unique Talbot image is classified with an arbitrary but unique 'Schaaf number' - thus, a negative and all the prints made from it, regardless of where they are now held, are tied together by this same number, facilitating cross-referencing and comparison of scattered negatives and prints.
Many photographs in the Catalogue are known to have been taken by Talbot himself. By necessity, the photographic work of others is contained within the Catalogue as well. Some printing was done by his family and other members of the Lacock Abbey household. Talbot's one-time valet, Nicolaas Henneman, worked very closely with him during the early days of photography and it is often impossible to separate who did what. In 1843, Henneman left Talbot's service and set up a photographic works in Reading, England (this 'Reading Establishment' is often mistakenly thought to have been Talbot's own business).
While at Reading, Henneman used the same techniques and materials that had been used at Lacock Abbey and even employed and photographed some of the members of staff at Lacock. In addition to creating new material, he printed negatives for Talbot and others. When Henneman relocated to London in 1847, Talbot loaned him further negatives to print. Throughout this period, Talbot bought negatives from other photographers, sometimes work done to commission and sometimes existing negatives. When Henneman closed his London operation in the early 1850s, he returned negatives and surplus prints to Talbot. In settlement of some debts, he also sent Talbot numerous other photographs that were the product of his own studio. These all became intermixed in the Lacock Abbey collections and their origins were generally forgotten. In fact, some of Henneman's parcels were not opened until the 1960s.
Most collections of Talbot material worldwide were derived from the Lacock Abbey collection, sometimes through purchase, often through the generous gifts of the family. Understandably, these 'Talbot' collections often contained the works not only of Talbot, but that of Henneman and others as well. In many cases they have become known as Talbot's own photographs. Some of this material is easily identified on stylistic grounds or because of contemporaneous documents. A common example is the work of the Reverend Calvert Richard Jones, a friend from whom Talbot purchased many negatives. The specific author (or authors) of some 'Talbot' photographs may never be established with certainty, especially those by Henneman in his days at Lacock Abbey. However, the developing analysis of Talbot's documentation, including his correspondence and his diaries, is beginning to yield further clues to identification.
The Catalogue Raisonné of Talbot & his circle is still under refinement and is not yet available in full publication. There are subsets of data derived from it in several institutions, including the Royal Photographic Society and the National Museum of American History and others. Prior to publication, we will attempt to assist researchers with information on specific items. Contributions of new information, particularly on unique Talbot items such as photogenic drawing negatives, is always welcome. The identity of private collections can be protected.
While it interacts with the Correspondence Project the Catalogue Raisonné is administered separately. For more information, please contact:
Dr Larry J Schaaf