Wally and Howard Talbot Photographic Collection
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Talbot Sport Archive
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Wally & Howard Talbot
Wally Talbot and his son Howard were Blackburn based photographers working in the areas of Press, Sport and Commercial Photography from the 1930s through to the 1990s. Wally Talbot was born in 1914 and at the age of 14 he started work as a “printer's devil" at the Northern Daily Telegraph (now “The Lancashire Telegraph"). He was to become one of the paper's first staff photographers. When the Second World War started he joined the R.A.F. as an Aircraftsman. He flew over enemy lines before and during bombing raids, identifying targets and taking photographs of the raids. He was also involved in taking public relations photographs which showed how the War was being won in order to send a positive message back home. He met celebrities such as George Formby who were entertaining the troops. Celebrities, military leaders and royalty alike were captured on film by Wally, and later, by Howard.
After the War, Wally returned to the “Telegraph" for a few years before taking the decision to set up his own business. He worked from home using his son, Howard's, bedroom, as a dark room and the bathroom for developing. When the photographs were ready they were sent by train to Manchester for use in the major papers.
In 1953, the business moved to premises on Preston New Road.
Howard joined his father's business when he was 14 years old. They were the only freelancers in the area and covered all of East Lancashire. Saturdays were busy days with weddings in the morning and football in the afternoons. As Howard was too young to drive when he first started work he had to rely on taxis and trains. Sometimes, the wedding taxis would be able to take him to his next assignment!
Wally and Howard's major customers were the national newspapers who would commission them to work for them. They worked long hours for The Daily Express, Daily Sketch and other dailies. Competition was fierce between the newspapers and they relied on freelance photographers, such as Wally and Howard, to find interesting stories and pictures. Father and son used to work on press days at the major football clubs which involved taking team and individual photos. Howard particularly enjoyed these as they got to meet all the famous players.
They also provided cine film for Granada and the BBC's news programmes.
Howard continued with the business after Wally retired. Howard's son joined him for a short time and was involved with wedding videos. When Wally died in 1994, Howard deposited their large collection of press and commercial negatives plus exhibition photographs in Blackburn Library. (Adapted from “The Bobbin: a local history newsletter, Issue No. 1, Autumn 2001", pp 11 – 12 by Diana Rushton)
Digitisation Programme by Blackburn University
It was always the intention of Blackburn Library to digitise the collection but a partnership initiated in 2015 by Sir Bill Taylor with the Talbot family, The University Centre, Blackburn College and Blackburn Library introduced a dynamic, committed and talented combination of staff and students working on the BA (Hons) Photography degree course who relished the opportunity to work on this singularly unique collection of images. Fate sometimes plays a deft hand and one person in particular deserves mention, Peter Graham. In his own words Peter recalls:
"I have grown up with photography really, my brother Paul Graham, who is 10 years older than me has been in the profession all his working life. Watching my brother working during the 1970s and 1980s, I met both Wally and Howard Talbot on many occasions, and, I was lucky to see them both at work. A family portrait we have was taken by Wally. I was always amazed and watched in wonder as the films used to appear, as if by magic, in the darkroom. Since than I have had a fascination in photography and an even bigger fascination in local history, so once the Talbot Archive started to appear and I got chance to work with it, it was a dream come true."
Key contributors John Harrison and Richard Peregrine, at that time employed at Blackburn College, met with the Talbot family several times from 2015 to agree a project plan which would utilise undergraduates students at Blackburn University Centre in order to digitise the photographic plates, prints and negatives in Wally and Howard Talbot's archive. Peter Graham, a photography undergraduate student subsequently scanned, categorised and published (online) thousands of images. Once this activity was up and running, John Harrison and Richard Peregrine developed an academic conference centred on the Talbot Collection, which was delivered in February 2018, with key photographic practitioner, Paul Hill, C.B.E. leading a plenary about the impact of the Talbot Collection on Blackburn's photographic history: Talbot Conference
Since work on the archive began in 2015 the collection has been featured across radio, television (e.g. the BBC's Flog It programme, where both Peter and Richard were interviewed by presenter Paul Martin) and several websites.
Richard Peregrine who was the lead lecturer on the Photography Degree course at Blackburn University until 2019 notes that:
"The photographs displayed here were taken mainly between 1950 and 1969 responding to daily assignments in Blackburn and it's locality. Staff and students working on the BA (Hons) Photography at The University Centre at Blackburn College, in partnership with the Talbot family and Blackburn Library have been digitally archiving thousands of the Talbots photographs in order to preserve this essential piece of Blackburn social history.
Importantly, the images show a level of dedication and technical skill that is extraordinary. The photography of Wally and Howard Talbot deserves to be enjoyed by the people of Blackburn now and for many years to come.
Blackburn Library have been the "keepers" of the Talbot Negative Collection since November 2003 and welcomed the partnership with the Talbot Family and Blackburn College. Community History Volunteers continue to add the digitised images to Cotton Town and to research the stories behind some of these memorable photographs.
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