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The Catalogue Raisonné project came to Oxford in August 2014 and this blog commenced in May of the following year.  At times it must have seemed that this little weekly beast was the centre of the project, but in fact all during this period a great deal of technical development and gathering of digital files was going on behind the scenes.  As will be seen below, you can start to use the initial publication of the working catalogue from today.
It has been a busy period on other fronts, so first …
 

We must not forget to wish Henry a happy birthday

born tomorrow, 11 February, in the year 1800

 

 and Sir David Brewster

Talbot’s good friend died on this day, 10 February 1868, at the ripe old age of 87.

(soon we must get around to that promised blog on him)

The Archive of William Henry Fox Talbot and the Talbot family
is now available

In 2012 the Bodleian Library embarked on a two year fundraising effort to acquire the personal archive of William Henry Fox Talbot.  The last of the family was departing Lacock Abbey, making this unique study collection available.  There are a few photographs in it, but the majority of the more than 1000 items through the physical testimony of objects illustrate just what shaped Henry Talbot’s thinking and how he led his life.  It is a delightful miscellany of albums, locks of hair, scientific instruments, dried plant specimens and many other things.  Some of the actual objects that Talbot photographed – glassware, paintings and stained glass – can be compared to his renditions.  After two years of cataloguing and re-housing, Matthew Neely and Charlotte McKillop-Mash have completed an online catalogue of this collection, making it fully publicly accessible for the first time.

From today the actual beginnings of the Catalogue Raisonné are available online

 

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, today your familiar bookmark silently directed you to this new fuller website.  We are sharing a beta version that will be evolving day by day to full functionality.  This initial launch encompasses more than 750 item-level records (out of the 25,000 eventual ones) – be warned, the textual material supporting the images is very much in draft form.

prelude

It might help understand the current state of the project to briefly review its technical underpinnings.  In 1982, my original attempts at cataloguing were both encouraged and limited by what the new IBM-PC could do at the time. This came with 64K (yes, K) of RAM which could be slightly extended and that at great cost.  Floppy drives were optional, cassette tapes being the main form of storage, and my first hard drive was a whopping 5MB (causing colleagues to wonder what you could possibly want with all that storage).  The first iterations of the catalogue were word processing lists, done in Satellite Software, later called WordPerfect, a gentlemanly and elegant predecessor to Word.  In 1984 I was able to take this into the field with my first laptop, an Epson Geneva sporting a four line screen and microcassette storage. Late in 1985 I made the great leap from word processor lists to databases.  dBase dominated the market then but I opted for Paradox for DOS, a much more powerful and flexible program that made  better use of precious memory. Photography, of course, came only in the form of rolls of film and there was no practical way to introduce images into the database.  Paradox for Windows came along, rapidly betraying its unwelcome clumsiness, so I reverted and these databases still live on in DOS form.

However, over a span of more than three decades, travel opportunities and the great generosity of many people gave me unprecedented and largely unfettered access to most of the original Talbots that exist throughout the world.  With today’s powerful databases, virtually unlimited file sizes and the facilities of digital photography, it is tempting to feel that accomplishing this task might have been easier if it had been delayed into this modern era.  But I can’t help think of the thousands of individual contributions from collectors and librarians and curators and conservators and family members over the years that shaped and enriched my understanding of this massive corpus of work.  I thank them and I remain convinced that the project took the trajectory that it had to. The gods might have performed a capriccio, but the hundreds of records turned into the thousands and in the end they delivered.

 

Chris Rogers is the Digital Projects Manager who is the face of the team from the Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services. They have been guiding the translation of my primordial databases into a resource that can be delivered online for anyone to use.  Like all translations, a feeling for poetry is as essential, if not more so, than access to a dictionary, for this is far from a simple 1:1 mapping of information. I like the fact that Post-It Notes played a critical role. Our own Ashley Lumb has been re-structuring the thousands of image files, largely feral creatures with a diversity of filenames and formatting and cropping, bringing them into line with the technical structure of the website.  Brian Liddy has been working on bringing my abbreviated and sometimes cryptic notes into a form that will provide essential supporting information for the images.
While there is an item-level record of every negative and print, the underlying structure of the catalogue organizes Talbot’s photographs into families of unique images.  In simple terms, this means that if there is a negative and seventeen prints from it scattered throughout the world, these are all indexed under one arbitrary but unique number, all the time retaining their individual identity.  Seven prints made from the same negative – a negative no longer surviving – share a master number.  A photogenic drawing photogram which is unique will have its own number.  Thus, you can look at an individual artifact or you can examine its parent and siblings all together.  Many years ago, my musician wife Elizabeth suggested a parallel with music history, pointing to Köchel-Verzeichnis for Mozart.  So long ago these master numbers for Talbot became Schaaf numbers.  Perhaps I should have called them Henry numbers, but there we are.
Each record contains an image which you can examine in more detail accompanied by basic data such as title, dimensions, date and collection.  Over time we will be adding cross-references to related images, keywords to facilitate searching, and links to outside sources of information about the image.  Dates present a problem for we are dealing with a relatively limited time range (1834-1846) and a number of complexities.  It is almost impossible to know precisely when a particular print was made, so any definite dates are the date of the creation of the negative.  When possible the use of ‘circa’ is avoided in preference for a specific date range.  Sometimes we know that a particular print was received by one of Talbot’s colleagues on a certain day and that establishes an end date for the print, the right bookend if you will, with its negative date being the starting point of the range.

You can use the wheel on your mouse to zoom into a high level of magnification on any image and then pan through it for close examination.  Many of Talbot’s photographs are now faded or indistinct.  Look for a little ‘wire fence’ symbol (how do they come up with these things?) upper left – think of this toolkit as a ‘photoshop lite’ that will enable you to change brightness and contrast and also rotate the image if need be.  In the case of negatives that are lacking adequate prints, we will be adding digital prints to the master files.

In order to aid in your research, you can add images that you have selected to a comparison gallery and then examine them side by side.
You can also register for an optional free account.  Once established this will allow you to save your work at any point and return to it in future.

 And now we come to your role in all this

There are link buttons with each image.  If you are seeking reproduction rights, one will put you directly in touch with the owner of the original – it will carry the reference number, the owner’s catalogue number and a thumbnail of the image in order to expedite your request.  Another button is absolutely critical to the success of this project.  Difficult as it may be to believe, we will have made some mistakes and have left out some critical information.  Hit that button on any image and you can easily sort us out (anonymously or otherwise).  We are dependent on crowd-sourcing for a lot of information.  Do you recognize that church?  Have you spotted another print of this that is in a collection unknown to us?  Was this photograph reproduced as a woodcut?  What is the hidden political meaning of the lithograph that Talbot copied?  Does Talbot’s composition echo that of a painting hanging in the Louvre?  Don’t be bashful – any information might be of value to some other researcher.  We will incorporate your suggestions just as soon as we can.

Not everything can be made available at once and you will encounter this notice from time to time.  Content is being added constantly so hopefully you won’t see this too often or for too long. If you have a very specific question we might be able to address your enquiry.

 

 

ford

Now, please take a ‘test drive’ of this new website.  We are counting on your contributions to make this the most valuable resource possible for the photographic and wider historical community.  Tell us what you like (so that we will keep it) and what doesn’t work for you (so we can try to fix it).  What features or content would you like to see added?

  And do see if you can break it.

 

Larry J Schaaf

henry-small

• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at larry.schaaf@bodleian.ox.ac.uk  • Portrait of Henry Talbot, aged seven, ink on paper, probably done by one his Welsh cousins, possibly using an optical drawing device, Hans P Kraus, Jr. •  WHFT, Sir David Brewster with Talbot’s Microscope, calotype negative and digital print, July 1842, Mattis-Hochberg Collection; Schaaf 2666. •  WHFT, Botanical Specimens, photogenic drawing negative, ca. 1839, John Dillwyn Llewelyn Collection, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford; Schaaf 4653.  •  Ford advertisement from J. Walter Thompson Collection, Duke University Library Digital Repository.