‘…photography...is used alike by art and science, by love, business, and justice; is found in the most sumptuous saloon, and in the dingiest attic—in the solitude of the Highland cottage, and in the glare of the London gin-palace, in the pocket of the detective, in the cell of the convict, in the folio of the painter and architect, among the papers and patterns of the millowner and manufacturer, and on the cold brave breast on the battle-field.’
Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, the wife of Charles Eastlake, the first President of the Photographic Society,
The London Quarterly Review, April 1857
On Saturday, the boy and I headed into London to go and see the current Royal Photographic Society's exhibition at the Science Museum's Media Space, Drawn by Light. We were let in through the swish security doors and into the gallery space which was welcoming and well presented.
The exhibition took us through the history of photography from the first prints to be classed as photography, through the evolution of the Daguerreotype and the Camera Obscura, to more modern transparencies and colour images.
As we walked into the room, we were met with a large dark cube, which housed, in darkness, the earliest known forms of photography; Niépce's heliographs, printed onto metal plates using light sensitive materials. These looked more like engravings than photographs, but the knowledge and imagination to even get to that landmark is amazing!
Moving on, images of ghostly figures showed you around the room as women and children in their 1800s' dress graced faint sepia toned photographs, hand printed and now over 150 years old.
There was a glass case of Daguerreotypes and its successors; something I was very excited to see - it is one of my hopes that I will one day stumble upon an original Daguerreotype in a tiny old antiques shop, which I will have to buy! Daguerreotypes preceded commercial photography but is a step up from the aforementioned Heliographs, being printed on glass and in colour.
This first section even housed the earliest forms of photoshop! - Albeit done by hand and in a dark room; much more impressive in my opinion!
Henry Peach-Robinson, Fading Away (1858)
Looking at the image above - even when it's hanging on a wall in front of you(!) - you would never know that it is made up of 5 different negatives.
Further along, there were more glass cases sheltering things such as a book with the hand-written minutes from the first ever meeting of the Royal Photographic Society, a booklet with the rules and regulations of the RPG, early types of commercial cameras, which came in wooden boxes with their own chemicals and even Henry Fox-Talbot's experimental cameras; variations on Camera Lucidas and Camera Obscuras which he had had made to further the evolution of photography; the process of which he was a pioneer.
The great thing about this exhibition was that it wasn't just photographs hung on walls; there were objects and paraphernalia to wonder at, things which have to be seen to be appreciated.
It was, however, fascinating to see some of the most important and seminal images from the last 160 years.
Roger Fenton, Looking Towards McKenzies Heights (1855)
Images that made you think and put you right in the heart of the image,
Harold 'Doc' Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, (1957)
The onset and popularity of colour film,
Colonel Mervyn O'Gorman, Christina by the boat, (1913)
And my personal favourite, one of a set of photographs taken by Colonel Mervyn O'Gorman in the summer of 1913 on a beach. It shows a golden haired girl, sat in front of a boat, deep in thought. To me, she looks almost mermaid-like, as if she's just shed her tail and crawled onto the shore.
This image was backlit, highlighting its beautiful colours, and is almost ahead of its time in terms of colour photography. O'Gorman, who was an aircraft and electrical engineer, caught on to this new technology and seemed to favour it; allowing us to see a certain period in time in its stunning, subdued colours while also giving it a sense of romanticism and wistfulness.
For further information about this exhibition and to see the trailer, visit here.
As an extra note, the quotation at the top of this blog is why I love photography! It can comfort, and convict. Be the truth, but also a lie. Is accessible to kings and paupers. It is the past, present and future. And I am a geek. The end!