Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Points of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs

The Points of View exhibition at the British Library gives an insight into Victorian culture and presents the discovery and development of the photographic image in the 19th Century.

The exhibition is a suprisingly interactive celebration and reveals 250 fascinating images from the library's catalogue of 300,000 photographs. I enjoyed the opportunity to make 'then and now' comparisons of London streets on one of the interactive machines which are dotted around the exhibit.
We are taken through a brief history of the orgins of phtography, given an insight into early travel photography and then into the various popularisms through the century.
I particularly enjoyed the 'Criminal Types' display, with examples from the work of Alphonse Bertillon, which helped the French police to document and capture criminals with identification overlays which superseded fingerprinting. I was fascinated, if not enamoured by the 'Documenting difference' display which demonstrated the Victorian obsession with archiving and documenting data. The striking images of Africans, Native Americans and Brazillians were taken mostly for comparison purposes and seen as the only way of preserving doomed cultures in the face of colonialism. The 'Medical Case studies' were also of interest. People at the time strongly believed that your mental ailment could be reflected in the face - I looked for quite a while trying to see if would be able to tell!
The selection of stereoscopes and stereoscopic images immediately leads the mind to the recent resurgence in popularity for 3D films and television. It was fascinating to see where it all started.
One can't help but compare the many examples to how we use photography now, with almost everybody who owns a mobile phone also having the capacity to take digital photographs and even videos with it. Cameras are an integral aspect of modern life especially in one of most 'watched' nations in the world. Our fascination with documenting our lives via the medium certainly hasn't waned. There are, apparently, approximately 14 million photographs uploaded to facebook daily!
George Eastman, founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream. His goal was:
" make the camera as convenient as the pencil."
I would say, it certainly is that...if not on it's way to being more so.

1 comment:

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