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Points of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs
30 October 2009 - 7 March 2010
. Admission free.
• New exhibition unlocks treasure trove of images from the dawn of photography
• Over 250 rarely-seen images trace development from gentleman's pursuit to mass pastime
• Social document, art form – and a window onto the spirit world…
170 years since its invention, photography remains the main technology through which we understand and record the world. Camera phones are now ubiquitous, but in its infancy, photography was an expensive, elaborate and experimental pursuit. Points of View - the British Library's first ever major photographic exhibition - will examine the development and influence of photography, from its invention in 1839 up to the growth of a popular amateur market in the early 20th century.

Rarely displayed items from the British Library's photography collection will show how photography has played a critical role as the primary means of visual expression in the modern age. See

Among the 250 exhibits are:
An oak tree in winter by William Henry Fox Talbot c.1842-43
Talbot's calotype process, which he announced in 1840 and patented the following year, produced a paper negative from which unlimited prints could be made. This example illustrates the expressive artistic possibilities of the process in one of his most accomplished studies. (Calotype negative and salted paper print)

The hippopotamus at the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park, London by Don Juan Carlos, Duke of Montizon, 1852
The arrival in 1850 of the hippopotamus Obaysch from Egypt - the first to be seen in England - caused immense excitement and doubled the number of visitors to the zoo in that year. Obaysch was joined by a mate in 1854 and survived until 1878. This is one of many natural history studies by the Count of Montizon exhibited at the Society of Arts Photographic Exhibition in 1852. (Salted paper print from a collodion negative)

Dictyola dichotoma by Anna Atkins, 1843-53
Between 1843 and 1853, Anna Atkins produced nearly 450 ‘photograms' of specimens of algae, issued in a small edition as British algae. Cyanotype impressions. This is one of only 12 copies that still survives today. The vivid blue of the cyanotype process contributes to the abstract beauty of cameraless images. ( Cyanotype)

X-ray photograph of frogs by Josef Maria Eder and Eduard Valenta, c.1896
Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of x-rays in 1895 brought a new dimension of hitherto invisible structures into photographic visibility. While a risky craze in amateur x-ray photography soon subsided, what was to become a tool of immense practical utility also revealed a world of startling beauty. (Photogravure)

Portrait of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, by Lady Alice Mary Kerr, c.1870
Alice Kerr's photographs are largely unknown apart from the rare examples in the British Library collections, but her intense and compelling portraits - particularly this study of the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt - merit comparison with the work of Julia Margaret Cameron. (Albumen print)

Printing Kodak negatives by daylight, Harrow, by an unknown photographer, 1891
This scene of the factory production of prints at Kodak's Harrow factory illustrates the growth of amateur photography in the last decade of the 19th century. The company's motto of ‘You press the button, we do the rest,' ushered in a new age of popular photography in the 20th century. (Gelatin silver print)

The exhibition explores the dramatic transformations in world order during the 19th century that shaped much of the world we live in today. It will draw on the British Library's rich photographic collection of over 300,000 images – including the daguerreotype and calotype, negatives, X-ray photographs and spirit photography.

Describing the exhibition the British Library's Head of Visual Materials, John Falconer commented: “Points of View explores the development of photography in the 19th century and how it quickly became a common part of daily life and a major commercial industry. Today we can't imagine life without photos but its invention in the 19 th century opened up a new world of visual communication and personal expression. Drawing on the unique collections held in the British Library, this exhibition examines the growth of the medium from the viewpoint of how and why it was used in the 19 th century, in fields as diverse as travel, portraiture, war, science and industry.”

The accompanying events programme will offer a rich mix of performances, talks, family events and more. Highlights so far announced include:

Imagining The Impossible (Saturday 31 October) - a Halloween special on the weird world of spirit photography.
The Wonderful World of Early Photography: A Discovery Day (Saturday 7 November) - an event for all the family packed full of workshops, talks, demonstrations of the Camera Obscura, Magic Lantern and Pinhole cameras and advice clinics on your own photography collections.
A Village Lost and Found (Wednesday 11 November) - photography collector and world renowned musician Brian May and photo historian Elena Vidal introduce the stunning 3D world of 19th century stereograms.
Late at The Library: Victorian Values (Friday 20 November) - a photography themed, and burlesque flavoured night of performances, sideshows, music and slightly twisted Victoriana.
Professor Heard's Peerless Victorian Magic Lantern Show (Sunday 29 November) - a brilliant introduction to an entertainment massively popular before the advent of recorded sound and moving image.
Capture Kings Cross (27 February 2010). A mass participation event, creatively photographing the area around the British Library and the Kings Cross development.
The British Library will be offering a range of learning activities to accompany the exhibition, including workshops for secondary and further education students, and guided tours for those in higher education and adult groups.

An accompanying book, Points of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs, will be published by the British Library in November 2009. It will feature over 150 colour illustrations including photographs from many of the most celebrated names in 19th century photography such as Francis Frith, Felix Teynard, Samuel Bourne and Peter Henry Emerson, as well as numerous lesser known names who made significant contributions to the medium.

The book will be published by the British Library in November 2009, available in hardback at £29.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5081 5) and paperback at £15.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5082 2 ) with 176 pages, 270 x 220 mm, over 150 colour illustrations. Available from the British Library Shop (tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email: and online at as well as other bookshops throughout the UK.

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