Photographs

Nevil Story-Maskelyne, Self-portrait
Nevil Story-Maskelyne, Self-portrait with camera, c 1850.
Digital positive from a calotype negative.
Photo 1194/1 (1).

Photographs can be found across all collection areas of the Library and span the history of the medium from its earliest years.

About the collection

The Talbot collection, photographs, correspondence and notebooks from the British inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot, is an archive of world importance for the study of the early history of photography, while our holdings of photographically-illustrated books further record its development in the course of the 19th century. The India Office photograph collections are one of the world’s richest sources for photographs of India and other parts of Asia from c. 1850 onwards. A varied and fascinating record of Canadian life can be found in the Canadian copyright collection, which contains some 4,000 photographs registered  between 1895 and 1924. The cartographical collections also hold a major series of 19th-century topographical views, while significant material will also be found in our manuscript collections.

While the strengths of the Library’s photograph collections are primarily focussed on the 19th century, important modern material is also held in the Fay Godwin collection and the Kodak historical collection.

What is available online?

Owing to their dispersal across the collections, photographs are listed in a number of online Library catalogues. Users are advised to consult both the main book catalogue Explore the British Library and the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. A selection of photographs from the India Office collections and from the photographically-illustrated books collections can be viewed in the Online Gallery.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Photographs collections can be ordered for study in the reading room appropriate to the collection area in which they are held. Please see links above for details.

Further information

An overview of the Library’s photograph collections can be found in Points of View. Capturing the 19th century in Photographs, by John Falconer and Louise Hyde (British Library, London, 2009).

How to guides

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms