Past Projects

In spring 2011, at the RPS Historical Group Conference at the University of Plymouth, John Hannavy returned to the conference platform for the first time in several years, to present the findings from his most recent research project – which revolved around a single photograph of the construction of Brunel's bridge over the River Tamar on the Devon/Cornwall border. Long attributed to Roger Fenton, and part of the major Fenton collection amassed by the Royal Photographic Society and now at the National Media Museum in Bradford, Hannavy's research revealed that the image was, in fact, taken by Robert Howlett, who also photographed Brunel's other great project – the building of the steamship Great Eastern. The project was triggered by the realisation that to reach the bridge site, the photographer would have had to travel through Exeter. Fenton was a keen photographer of England's great abbeys and cathedrals, but no photographs by him are known to have been taken of Exeter Cathedral – posing the obvious question 'did he ever take any?' Eventually, a faint pencil mark on the mount of the image in Bradford was deciphered as 'with R. Howlett's compts' – probably identifying this print as a gift from Howlett to Fenton, and one of Howlett's last gestures before his early death. During the research project, a number of other studies of the bridge were located, the identify of their photographers lost in time.

Daguerreotype Patents in Scotland and Ireland. How many photographic histories have we read which assert that Daguerre's process was never patented in Scotland or Ireland? Original research undertaken by John Hannavy for the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography questioned that assertion - resulting in the discovery of the original Scottish patents. Not only do they exist, but by a quirk of fate - and the reduced workload of the Scottish Patents Office - Richard Beard actually patented the process in Scotland days before the famous English Patent was granted.

The result of that esearch was published in April 2009 in the delayed Daguerreian Annual 2007, the yearbook of the Daguerreian Society of America.

While in Kiev as part of the Great Photographic Journeys project, John tracked down a long-lost album of images by John Cooke Bourne, who had travelled with Roger Fenton to Moscow and St Petersburg, and who had been the official photographer on Charles Vignoles' project to built the first permanent bridge over the River Dnipro for the Czar. The story of the rediscoverey of these images – hitherto it had been believed that all Bourne's pictures had been lost – and the discovery of a patent he had been granted for a new design of camera for the travelling photographer – was published in the journal History of Photography in 2004.

The Daguerreotypes of the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1855 The chance discovery, in an antique shop in the north of England, of this fine pair of stereoscopic images of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1855, triggered several years of fascinating research into these very early souvenir photographs. The outcome of that research, including many images of the Exposition being reproduced for the first time, was published in summer 2006 in The Daguerreian Annual 2005, the yearbook of the Daguerreian Society. The Society was established to promote the study of early photography, and the publication of material relating to the daguerreotype process.


The Victorian Photographs of Dr. Thomas Keith and John Forbes White is still available from John Hannavy Publishing, the remaining hardback copies now reduced to half price, just £10.00 + P&P

To order a copy, use the Contacts page.


Published by PiXZ/Halsgrove in October 2017, price £9.99, is  Edwardian Railways in Postcards a celebration both of the railways themselves and of the art of the postcard photographers, colourists and publishers. Click on the book cover, below to log on to where you can see all of John Hannavy's currently available books. 

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All images and text © John Hannavy