British photographic history

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Exhibition: Captain Shakespear and the Arabian Peninsula / opens 10 May 2022

A new exhibition titled The other Shakespear, which brings to life some of the earliest and finest images of the Arabian Peninsula is being launched this month at the Royal Geographical Society on Exhibition Road. This is the first time these photographs have been on public display for more than a century.  The photographs taken by Captain William Shakespear (1878–1915) show both the changing and unchanging nature of this extraordinary landscape and its people. 

Captain Shakespear was a man of enterprise with a fearless love of exploration. He was a soldier by training, a diplomat by profession and an amateur photographer, botanist and geographer by inclination. He explored, photographed and mapped large tracts of Northern Arabia in the early 19th century and, because of an extraordinary friendship with Abdulaziz ibn Saud, later King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Shakespear became a vital and unique intermediary between Britain and the Arab world before and during the early days of World War 1. 

Some of the glass slides will also be on display. Captain Shakespear’s maps, notebooks and photographs belong to the RGS collection. 

In the desert, Shakespear used a large plate camera adapted to take panoramas and a No.1 Panoram-Kodak. This was portable and could store several panoramas on a single film roll. Later, Shakespear also used a small folding camera made by Houghtons Ltd., then the largest camera manufacturer in Britain. The Ensignette took film roll and was robust and rust-proof. Its popularity led to a new breed of amateur photographers, known as the ‘Pocket Snap Shooters’.  

Photographic equipment was an essential part of Shakespear’s expedition equipment, and also included a Kodak Tank Developer, used to process negatives, often in extremes of temperature with limited water supplies. The remarkable results place Shakespear amongst the most important early photographers documenting life on the Arabian Peninsula.  


The Other Shakespear Exhibition  
10 am to 5.30 pm - 10 May to 6 June 2022
Free entry, The Pavillion, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), Exhibition Road, London SW7

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