Salt prints represent the first negative-to-positive photographic technique. Introduced by Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839, it is the process from which most nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographic formats were derived. Collections of salt prints found in libraries, archives, and museums at Harvard University include some of the earliest photographic images created, and they represent a seminal chapter in the history of photography. Together, these holdings reveal technological developments in the medium and pioneering uses of photography across the sciences and humanities.


Salt Print Initiative at Harvard

The Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) has undertaken a university-wide project to preserve and enhance access to salt prints at Harvard. Salt prints represent the result of the first negative-to-positive photographic technique, introduced by Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839. The project focuses on photogenic drawings, paper negatives, and salted paper prints (positive prints created from paper or glass-plate negatives) found throughout Harvard’s libraries, archives, and museums. The term salt print is broadly used to represent all of these processes.

Through a series of initiatives, the WPC seeks to enhance our understanding of these rare photographs and to ensure their long-term preservation. Programs have included a condition survey of salt prints found in twelve Harvard repositories; workshops on the history and identification of the medium; guidelines for housing, storage, and exhibition; treatment of selected images; material analyses; cataloging and digitization of selected collections; publications; exhibitions; and a symposium.

The project has provided a unique opportunity for a fruitful exchange among Harvard conservators, librarians, collection managers, curators, scholars, faculty, students, and interns. This cross-disciplinary exchange provides invaluable insights into pioneering uses of the medium and opens exciting avenues for the creative use of Harvard’s photographic resources in object-based learning in the sciences and humanities.

The Harvard Salt Print initiative was a multi-year, multi-repository project to identify and characterize salt prints in various Library and Museum collections across Harvard. This series of presentations provides an overview of the project and its value to the Harvard community by highlighting different aspects of the Harvard Salt Print Initiative. Presentations include: 

  • Elena Bulat, the Paul M. and Harriet L. Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator - Findings of the Survey and Future Directions 
  • Arthur McClelland, PhD, Principal Scientist, Center for Nanoscale Systems, Harvard University - New Methods of Instrumental Analysis 
  • Joanne Bloom, PhD, Photographic Resources Librarian, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University - Salt Prints at the Fine Art Library, Special Collections.  
  • Amanda Maloney, Special Collections Conservator, will accompany Joanne with a virtual viewing of salt prints from the Fine Art Library which are currently at the Weissman Preservation Center for treatment. 


Participating Harvard Repositories

Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology
Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard Herbaria
Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Fine Arts Library, Special Collections
Harvard Divinity School Library
Harvard Law School Library
Harvard Map Collection
Harvard University Archives
Houghton Library: Harvard Theatre Collection
Houghton Library: Modern Books and Manuscripts
Houghton Library: Printing and Graphic Arts
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology