07
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘Photography – A Victorian Sensation’ at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Exhibition dates: 19th June – 22nd November 2015

 

In our contemporary image-saturated, comprehensively mediated way of life it is difficult for us to understand how “sensational” photography would have been in the Victorian era. Imagine never having seen a photograph of a landscape, city or person before. To then be suddenly presented with a image written in light, fixed before the eye of the beholder, would have been a profoundly magical experience for the viewer. Here was a new, progressive reality imaged for all to see. The society of the spectacle as photograph had arrived.

Here was the expansion of scopophilic society, our desire to derive pleasure from looking. That fetishistic desire can never be completely fulfilled, so we have to keep looking again and again, constantly reinforcing the ocular gratification of images. Photographs became shrines to memory. They also became shrines to the memory of desire itself.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National Museum of Scotland for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hill and Adamson

Dr Sara Stevenson, photo historian, talks about the origins of Hill and Adamson’s partnership and their photography skills.

 

Scottish daguerreotypes

Dr Alison Morrison Low, Principal Curator of Science, National Museums Scotland, talks about daguerreotype portraits in Scotland and the work of Thomas Davidson.

 

Amateur photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron

Anne Lyden, International Photography Curator, National Galleries of Scotland, talks about photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

 

George Washington Wilson

Emeritus Professor Roger Taylor talks about George Washington Wilson’s life and work.

 

TR Williams

Dr Brian May, CBE, musician and collector of stereo-photography talks about the photography of TR Williams.

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'The Open Door' 1844-46

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
The Open Door
1844-46
Salt print from a calotype negative
Plate VI from the Pencil of Nature, the first book to be illustrated with photographs
© National Museums Scotland

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'The Ladder' 1844-46

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
The Ladder
1844-46
Salt print from a calotype negative
Plate XIV from the Pencil of Nature, the first book to be illustrated with photographs
© National Museums Scotland

 

Calotype images are not as pin-sharp as daguerreotypes, but they had one great advantage: more than one image could be produced from a single negative. Yet both processes were cumbersome and very expensive. What was needed was a faster, cheaper method to really fuel the fire of Victorian photomania.

 

 

• Daguerreotype camera, made by A Giroux et Cie, 1839

 

Giroux et Cie
Daguerreotype camera
1839
© National Museums Scotland

This camera was bought by WHF Talbot in October 1839.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Talbot's home-made camera' 1840s

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
Talbot’s home-made camera
1840s
© National Museums Scotland

Some of his early equipment appears to have been constructed to his design by the estate carpenter.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Talbot's calotype photography equipment' c. 1840

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
Talbot’s calotype photography equipment
c. 1840
© National Museums Scotland

Camera, printing frame, small domestic iron and chemical balance.

 

Platt D Babbitt. 'Niagara Falls from the American side' whole plate daguerreotype c.1855

 

Platt D Babbitt (1822-79)
Niagara Falls from the American side
c. 1855
Whole plate daguerreotype
Platt D Babbitt ensconced himself at a leading tourist spot beside Niagara Falls, from 1853
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Platt D Babbitt (1822-79) 'Niagara Falls from the American side' (detail) c. 1855

 

Platt D Babbitt (1822-79)
Niagara Falls from the American side (detail)
c. 1855
Whole plate daguerreotype
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Platt D Babbitt ensconced himself at a leading tourist spot beside Niagara Falls, from 1853.

 

Ross and Thomson of Edinburgh. 'Unknown little girl sitting on a striped cushion holding a framed portrait of a man, possibly her dead father' 1847-60

 

Ross and Thomson of Edinburgh
Unknown little girl sitting on a striped cushion holding a framed portrait of a man, possibly her dead father
1847-60
Ninth-plate daguerreotype
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson. 'Mrs Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall, a Newhaven fishwife, famous for her beauty and self-confidence' 1843-48

 

D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson
Mrs Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall, a Newhaven fishwife, famous for her beauty and self-confidence
1843-48
From an album presented by Hill to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1850
Salt print from a calotype negative,
© National Museums Scotland

 

Robert Howlett, London. 'Isambard Kingdom Brunel Standing Before the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern' November 1857

 

Robert Howlett, London
Isambard Kingdom Brunel Standing Before the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern
November 1857
Carte-de-visite
Sold by the London Stereoscopic Company
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Calotype photographs from an album compiled by Dr John Adamson, among the earliest in Scotland

 

Calotype photographs from an album compiled by Dr John Adamson, among the earliest in Scotland

 

Photograph burnt in on glass, a group of workmen, Paris 1858

 

Photograph burnt in on glass, a group of workmen, Paris 1858

 

 

“A major exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland explores the Victorian craze for photography and examine how it has influenced the way we capture and share images today, when more photographs are taken in two minutes than were taken in the whole of the 19th century. Photography: A Victorian Sensation takes visitors back to the very beginnings of photography in 1839, tracing its evolution from a scientific art practised by a few wealthy individuals to a widely available global phenomenon, practised on an industrial scale.

The exhibition showcases National Museums Scotland’s extensive early photographic collections, including Hill and Adamson’s iconic images of Victorian Edinburgh, and the Howarth-Loomes collection, much of which has never been publicly displayed. Highlights include an early daguerreotype camera once owned by William Henry Fox Talbot; an 1869 photograph of Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron; a carte-de-visite depicting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a middle-class couple and an early daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls. The exhibition covers the period from 1839 to 1900, by which point photography had permeated the whole of society, becoming a global sensation. Images and apparatus illustrate the changing techniques used by photographers and studios during the 19th century, and the ways in which photography became an increasingly accessible part of everyday life.

From the pin-sharp daguerreotype and the more textured calotype process of the early years, to the wet collodion method pioneered in 1851, photography developed as both a science and an art form. Visitors can follow the cross-channel competition between photographic trailblazers Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot, enter the world of the 1851 Great Exhibition and snap their own pictures inside the photographer’s studio. They can also discover the fascinating stories of some of the people behind hundreds of Victorian photographs. These range from poignant mementos of loved ones to comical shots and early attempts at image manipulation. Photographs of family members were important mementos for Victorians and on display is jewellery incorporating both images of deceased loved ones and elaborately woven locks of their hair.

Sharing images of loved ones drove the craze for collecting cartes-de-visite. The average middle class Victorian home would have had an album full of images of friends and family members as well as never-before-seen famous faces ranging from royalty to well-known authors and infamous criminals. Such images sold in their hundreds of thousands. Also hugely popular were stereoscopes, relatively affordable devices which allowed people to view 3D photographs of scenes from around the world from the comfort of their own homes. On display are a range of ornate stereoscopes as well as early photographs showing views from countries ranging from Egypt to Australia. The increasing affordability of photographs fuelled the demand for the services of photographic studios, and visitors have the opportunity to get a taste of a Victorian studio by posing for their own pictures. They also have the chance to see typical objects from the photographer’s studio, including a cast iron head rest, used to keep subjects still for a sufficient period of time to capture their image.

Alison Morrison Low, Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland commented: “Just as today we love to document the world around us photographically, so too were the Victorians obsessed with taking and sharing photographs. Photography: A Victorian Sensation will transport visitors back to the 19th century, linking the Victorian craze for photography with the role it plays in everyday life today. The period we’re examining may be beyond living memory, but the people featured in these early images are not so different from us.”

A book, Scottish Photography: The First 30 Years by Sara Stevenson and Alison Morrison-Low has been published by NMSEnterprises Publishing to accompany Photography: A Victorian Sensation.”

Text from the National Museum of Scotland website

 

Taken by a photographer of the London School of Photography, based at Newgate Street and Regent Circus, London. 'Portrait of a horse held by a groom' 1858-60

 

Taken by a photographer of the London School of Photography, based at Newgate Street and Regent Circus, London
Portrait of a horse held by a groom
1858-60
Quarter- plate ambrotype
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

George Washington Wilson, Aberdeen. 'Balmoral Castle from the N.W.' 1863

 

George Washington Wilson, Aberdeen
Balmoral Castle from the N.W.
1863
Stereo albumen prints from a wet collodion negative
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Staff photographer of the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company (probably William England). 'The Armstrong Trophy and Naval Court' 1862

 

Staff photographer of the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company (probably William England)
The Armstrong Trophy and Naval Court
1862
Stereo albumen prints from a wet collodion negative
From the series of International Exhibition of 1862, No. 133
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

It shows material lent to the exhibition by the Northern Lighthouse Board, Edinburgh, now in the collections of National Museums Scotland.

 

Mayall, London & Brighton. 'The Queen, gazing at a bust of Prince Albert, together with the Prince and Princess of Wales, married 10 March 1863' 1863

 

Mayall, London & Brighton
The Queen, gazing at a bust of Prince Albert, together with the Prince and  Princess of Wales, married 10 March 1863
1863
Carte-de-visite
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Cramb Brothers, of Glasgow. 'Dr E W Pritchard, His Wife, Mother-in-Law and Family' 1865

 

Cramb Brothers, of Glasgow
Dr E W Pritchard, His Wife, Mother-in-Law and Family
1865
Carte-de-visite
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Edward William Pritchard (1825-65) was notorious for poisoning with antimony his wife and mother-in-law, both seen in this family portrait in happier days. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.

 

Cramb Brothers, of Glasgow. 'Dr E W Pritchard' 1865

 

Cramb Brothers, of Glasgow
Dr E W Pritchard
1865
Carte-de-visite
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Cramb Brothers advertised this image, Price 1 shilling each. They stated: These Portraits are all Copyright, and bear the Publishers’ Names. Legal Proceedings will be taken against any one offering Pirated Copies for Sale.

 

Marcus Guttenberg, Bristol. 'Portrait group of four unidentified children' 1860s-1870s

 

Marcus Guttenberg, Bristol
Portrait group of four unidentified children
1860s-1870s
Carte-de-visite
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Elliot & Fry, 55 Baker Street, Portman Square, London. 'Alfred, Lord Tennyson' 1865-86

 

Elliot & Fry, 55 Baker Street, Portman Square, London
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1865-86
Carte-de-visite
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Tennyson (1809-92) became Poet Laureate in 1850, after the death of William Wordsworth; his poems In Memoriam (1850) and Idylls of the King (1859) were hugely popular during Victorian times, but less so today.

 

Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Alfred Tennyson' 3 June 1870

 

Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron
Alfred Tennyson
3 June 1870
Albumen print from a wet collodion negative
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Henry Frederick Van Der Weyde, 182 Regent Street, London. 'Richard Mansfield as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' c. 1888

 

Henry Frederick Van Der Weyde, 182 Regent Street, London
Richard Mansfield as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
c. 1888
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Mansfield made his name in the title role of R.L. Stevenson’s novella, made into a play and shown in London in 1888.

 

Henry Frederick Van Der Weyde, 182 Regent Street, London. 'Richard Mansfield as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' c. 1888 (detail)

 

Henry Frederick Van Der Weyde, 182 Regent Street, London
Richard Mansfield as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (detail)
c. 1888
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Francis Bedford. 'Lydstep - the Natural Arch' 1860s

 

Francis Bedford
Lydstep – the Natural Arch
1860s
Half of a stereoscopic albumen print
From his series South Wales Illustrated
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Peter Harry Emerson. 'Gathering Water Lilies' 1886

 

Peter Henry Emerson
Gathering Water Lilies
1886
Platinum print
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

Peter Henry Emerson. 'Gathering Water Lilies' 1886 (detail)

 

Peter Henry Emerson
Gathering Water Lilies (detail)
1886
Platinum print
© Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

 

 

National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street,
Edinburgh,
EH1 1JF
Tel: 0300 123 6789

Opening hours:
Daily: 10.00 – 17.00
Christmas Day: Closed
Boxing Day: 12.00 – 17.00
New Year’s Day: 12.00 – 17.00

National Museum of Scotland website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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