Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
In 1853 an unprecedented exhibition of photography toured Britain. It came to Scotland and was celebrated as the product of a “union” with London. In the press, photography itself was positioned as an art historical descendent of alchemy, a perfect blend of art and science, mysticism and religion. Readers were asked to compare this new medium to other technological inventions magically transforming the world like the train and the telegraph, which enabled them to “travel by fire and speak by lightening.” As a consequence, the general public were impelled to view photography as a grand idea; something new and patriotic, as well as something that could link local communities in a national cause.
After discussing the potency of an exhibition as a site for distributing state enforced ideology in the nineteenth century, this lecture illustrates how the 1853 photographic exhibition stimulated the practice of photography at a local level. More specifically, it reveals how the organisers, all based in London and affiliated with the Royal Society of Arts, established a picturesque aesthetic for photography that was resolutely English. The message the exhibition sent to regions across Britain was that the gnarled oak, quiet village scene and babbling brook were the subjects of the best photographs in the Kingdom; and these were the sites locals should seek out in order to establish their professionalism. In doing this the travelling exhibition softly propagated a colonial vision of England’s role as educator and civiliser of clans and nations. It also reflected a commonly held belief that Britain was stronger as a united inclusive force, not one driven by the insular nationalism that had led other European nations into revolutions during the late 1840s.
Details of this talk by Antonia Laurence-Allen, PhD Candidate, School of Art History can be found here.
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