British photographic history

Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history

The British Library has announced a series of events around its major autumn exhibition Points of View which takes place from 30 October 2009 to 7 March 2010. These include a whole day of lectures and workshops on 7 November as well as one-off events including Brian May talking about the photographer T. R. Williams and Larry Schaaf on William Henry Fox Talbot. Below is a exclusive, handy print-out and keep guide to these. Most of the events are free but have limited availability so booking is recommended. Visit to do this. Further events for January to March will be announced in due course.

Events and lectures

Imagining the impossible: The truth about spirit photography
Sat 31 Oct 2009, 14.30 - 16.00
Price: £6 / £4 concessions

Images of departed spirits, ghosts and ectoplasm captured on photographs became a huge sensation between the 1860s and 1930s. As spiritualist mediums and their many clients, and even establishment figures such as Arthur Conan Doyle, enthused about these apparently miraculous messages, others sought to uncover widespread fraud and trickery. An entertaining illustrated talk, especially for Halloween, by Gordon Rutter, Head of the Charles Fort Institute and scholar of strange experiences and anomalous phenomena.

A Village Lost And Found: Into an extraordinary stereoscopic world
Wed 11 Nov 2009, 18.30 – 20.00
Price: £7.50 / £5 concessions

Discover Brian May and Elena Vidal’s painstaking excavation of exquisite stereo photographs from the dawn of photography, as they transport us back in time to the lost world of an Oxfordshire village of the 1850s. Pioneering stereographer T.R. Williams created these powerfully atmospheric views of rural society in 1856, which burst into glorious 3D life when seen through viewers supplied to each audience member. Their intriguing story is presented by lifelong stereograph enthusiast and world-renowned musician Brian May and photographic historian and conservator Elena Vidal,

Professor Heard’s peerless Victorian magic lantern show
Sun 29 Nov 2009, 14.30 – 16.00
Price: £7.50 / £5 concessions

Professor Heard introduces the weird and wonderful magic lantern entertainments once presented in public halls and private drawing rooms throughout the 19th century. An intriguing and amusing show that draws on a unique collection of original mechanical moving pictures, sights, frights, moral warnings, adventures and pictorial curiosities.

‘I have captured a shadow’: Fox Talbot and the dawn of photography
Mon 7 Dec 2009, 18.30 -20.00
Price: £6 / £4 concessions

Frustrated with his inability to draw while in Italy, William Henry Fox Talbot conceived of the art of photography in 1833. He achieved his first successes at his Wiltshire home of Lacock Abbey by the following spring but delayed announcing his achievement to the public until 1839. Photography was thus born into an era propelled by rapid industrialisation and buffeted by great social upheavals. It both preserved the past and predicted the future.
In 2006, the descendants of William Henry Fox Talbot made an extraordinary donation to the British Library. The inventor of photography had started his own archive at the age of eight. Included in this donation were hundreds of notebooks, thousands of letters and many crucial examples of his early photographs. This collection provides an unusually rich and comprehensive resource for studying both the invention of photography and its context in the Victorian era.
Drawing on these resources, this illustrated talk by Larry J. Schaaf will explore the invention and early progress of the art of photography through the eyes of Talbot himself. The art and the artist advanced together.
World expert on early photography Larry J. Schaaf is the author of many book, including The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot


Photography Day

The wonderful world of early photography: A discovery day
Sat 7 Nov 2009, 11.00 - 16.30
Price: Free, limited availability, booking recommended

Enjoy, explore and learn about the remarkable early years of photography at a packed day of free talks, displays, workshops and activities.

All day events

Willett and Patterson's amazing camera obscura
Time: 11.00 – 16.30
Location: British Library, Piazza
Price: Free, drop in

A chance to experience the projected images that amazed earlier generations: artists, scientists and holiday-makers. Complete with its authentic booth and operators, this is one of the finest touring camera obscuras in the world.

Madam La Luz's photographic parlour
Time: 11.00 – 16.00
Location: British Library, Entrance Hall
Price: Free, drop in (subject to demand)

Dress up in 19th-century costume and have your picture taken by professional photographers in our lavish Victorian photo studio.

Early photography advice sessions
An introduction to looking after photographs

Time: 11.30- 12.30
Location: British Library, Centre for Conservation
Price: Free, drop in (limited capacity)

Many families have photographic collections ranging from those taken over 100 years ago to the present day. In this presentation you will learn about the different types of photographs and how to avoid storage problems in photographic collections.

Images of the past
Time: 13.30 – 16.30
Location: British Library, Entrance Hall
Price: Free, drop in (time slots may be in operation subject to demand)

Bring in your own early photographs and meet our team of conservators. Discuss their themes, dates, techniques and learn how best to care for them and protect your own collection for future generations.

Talks and Events

Photographic History without Photographs
Time: 11.00 – 12.00
Location: All talks will take place in the Conference Centre Auditorium
Book now: Free, advance booking available

In a heavily illustrated lecture, Michael Pritchard explores a little-known but intriguing world of photographic history sources: trade catalogues, patents, company documents, auction catalogues, handbills and printed ephemera. Presented in conjunction with the 2009 Let's Talk About Photography lectures promoted by the Photographic Materials Conservation Group of the Institute of Conservation

Magic Lantern Show
Time: 12.30 – 13.00
Book now: Free, advance booking available

'New light through an old hole'
Time: 13.30 – 14.30
Book now: Free, advance booking available

The History, Science and Art of The Pinhole Camera. Justin Quinnell, who uses pinhole photography will be launching his book Build Your Own Paper Camera . The lecture will take the audience on an entertaining visual journey through the science, art and 500 million year history of the pinhole camera.

Magic Lantern Show
Time: 15.00 – 15.30
Book now: Free, advance booking available

Curator Talk, Points Of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs
Time: 16.00 – 17.00
Book now: Free, advance booking available

John Falconer, discusses the highlights of the exhibition and the British Library photographic collection.


Pinhole Camera workshop
Time: 11.00 - 12.45

Suitable for families with children aged 7 – 16
Book now: Free, advance booking recommended (limited places)

Pinhole Camera workshop
Time: 15.00 - 16.45

Suitable for ages 16 and over
Book now: Free, advance booking recommended (limited places)


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