The Fenton Collection

A Kodak no 2. Bulls-eye box camera with leather case; c.1900.

An historic photographic collection - known as the Fenton Collection - has been transferred from the British Film Institute to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock, Britain's birthplace of photography.

Thanks to a £36,100 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and support from Art Council England’s Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Materials (PRISM) fund and the British Film Institute (BFI), the Fenton Collection has found a new home at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock.

A sliding back portrait camera, dating from around 1860, part of the Fenton Collection
A sliding back portrait camera, circa 1860 from the Fenton Collection

What is the Fenton Collection?

The collection comprises hundreds of cameras, optical devices and toys from the eighteenth century to the late 1980s as well as nearly 3,500 photographic images ranging from the earliest processes through to the first part of the twentieth century.

It was assembled by James Fenton in the second half of the twentieth century and acquired by the Museum of the Moving Image, which closed in 1999.

Since then, the collection has remained in storage, but with the support of the British Film Institute, Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, it will now be brought back into the light at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock.

" We are hugely grateful to all of our supporters; the British Film Institute, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Arts Council England. With their support, we are better able to tell the history of photography, to preserve a crucial part of our history, and to care for this incredible collection in the way it deserves."
- Roger Watson, curator of the Fox Talbot Museum

Why the Fox Talbot Museum?

The museum, situated in the grounds of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, celebrates the achievement of William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot captured the world’s first photographic negative at the abbey in 1835 and invented the calotype process, paving the way for photographic processes on film still used today.

As Britain’s birthplace of photography, Lacock is the perfect place for James Fenton’s collection, and the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and PRISM means that this unique collection can be properly cared for.

Volunteers at the museum will work with skilled conservators to catalogue and digitalise the 4,500 objects in the collection in front of the eyes of the visitors, bringing the history of photography to life in a completely new way.

" HLF is so pleased to support this project to bring together and digitise the wonderful Fenton collection of photographic material. Thanks to National Lottery players, this internationally significant collection, which shows the evolution of photography, will now be conserved and exhibited, with opportunities for a wide range of people to learn new skills. "
- Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West
Fenton Project volunteers Peter and Ros with the collection
Fenton Project volunteers Peter and Ros with the collection

What is happening now?

When the Fenton Collection arrived at Lacock’s Fox Talbot Museum, it was estimated to contain approximately 3,500 photographs, around 500 cameras, and other items, such as projectors and darkroom equipment. It’s looking like these numbers were something of an under-estimate. We are almost half way through the project and the volunteers have now catalogued over 2,500 separate objects, including a wide range of photographs, cameras and photographic accessories.

As the cataloguing proceeds, our volunteer photographers have been building a comprehensive photographic inventory of the technology collection, whilst others trained in scanning have been busy digitising photographs. The photographic inventory so far includes over 600 digital images of cameras and related technology, and over 1200 scanned photographs.

The Fenton collection will bring to Lacock an exciting programme of displays, conservation and photographic demonstrations, ensuring that this extraordinary collection is preserved and presented for ever, for everyone.  

A Kodak No 3 Folding Brownie Model A, c.1910
A Kodak No 3 Folding Brownie Model A, c.1910