British photographic history

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The education of the eye. History of the Royal Polytechnic Institution 1838-1881.
Brenda Weeden
Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2008.


The Polytechnic Institution in London plays an important part in the early history of photography being the place where Richard Beard established his daguerreotype portrait studio in 1841. This was Europe's first commercial photographic studio. The Institution was one of a number of commercial enterprises presenting science to popular audiences and is now known as the University of Westminster, still occupying its original premises in Regent Street, London.

This new book, which is one of a series telling the history of the Polytechnic and includes a chapter 'Photography at the Polytechnic'. It's involvement started with lectures and demonstrations soon after photography was announced and by October J. T. Cooper was delivering popular lectures in October 1839. William Henry Fox Talbot made early use of the Polytechnic's resources and licensed it to demonstrate his process. Europe's first photographic studio was built on the roof of the Polytechnic and opened on 23 March 1841 and was operated by Cooper and another chemist, John Goddard. The first Polytechnic photography school opened in Spring 1853. Many will recall learning photography at 'the Regent Street Poly' in the 1950s and 1960s.

Although a general history the book it covers well the Polytechnic's involvement with popular science, photography and other optical media such as the magic lantern. It is written in a lively style and is well illustrated.

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