Tag Archives: Media Space

A new vision: the influence of early scientific photography

With a major new exhibition at the Museum exploring the fertile ground in photography where science and art meet, Co-curator of Revelations: Experiments in Photography Dr Ben Burbridge looks at how scientific endeavour has had a profound effect on the visual languages of art.

The new Media Space exhibition, Revelations: Experiments in Photography, tells the story of artists’ changing engagement with early scientific photography, tracking a path through modern, postmodern and contemporary photographic art.

The first room of the exhibition, entitled ‘Once Invisible’, draws on the rich holdings of the National Photography Collection and the Science Museum collections to explore how early scientific photographs expanded the field of vision during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

'Once Invisible', Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘Once Invisible’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

These photographs show the astronomically distant and microscopically small, reveal the nuances of rapid motion, and record the presence of invisible energy sources such as radiation and electricity.
After installing this part of the exhibition, it struck us once again how truly strange these images still seem, and quite how alien the world can appear within them.

Highlights include William Henry Fox Talbot’s exquisite photomicrographs, Arthur Worthington’s innovative use of flash to study the forms produced by splashes, Henri Becquerel’s photographs demonstrating the radioactivity of uranium salts, which border on abstraction and photographs by Étienne Jules Marey.

“Unlike Eadweard Muybridge, who had no interest in science, Étienne Jules Marey was a qualified doctor and there would have been no Italian Futurist movement without his extraordinary influence. Marey’s representation of locomotion and the movement of animals and human beings is wonderfully exhibited here – perhaps for the first time publicly. There are very few exhibitions where you can see his genius.” – Sir Jonathan Miller, speaking at the opening event for Revelations: Experiments in Photography

The pictures can be understood as both product and emblem of an extraordinary moment when new technologies changed experiences of the world in fundamental ways. They are best understood in relation to a wider technological landscape, which included the development of telegraphy, telephony and inter-continental rail travel.

The second room is entitled ‘The New Vision’. Here, visitors are presented with art photography made during a period spanning from the early twentieth century to 1979. It provides a rare opportunity to see iconic and lesser known works informed and inspired by the types of scientific imagery presented in Room 1.

The New Vision, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘The New Vision’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

Drawing on numerous loans from museums in the USA and Europe, ‘The New Vision’ includes work by László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Laure Albin-Guillot, Carl Strüwe, Alfred Erhardt, György Kepes, Harold Edgerton, Berenice Abbott and Hollis Frampton. Seeing these important works come out of shipping crates and onto the walls was a memorable experience.

Many of these artists were drawn to scientific photographs based on the formal principles they suggested, particularly the radically abstract language they made available. For some, the photographs were also symbols of broader changes to culture and society: in the scientific photographs, technology helped to reveal and record things that could not be seen by the naked eye. The abilities of man were surpassed by those of machines.

‘The New Vision’ maps a course through twentieth century art, revealing a gradual shift in the meaning of science and technology. Painted in crude terms, it signals those ways in which an initial enthusiasm gave way to pessimism and uncertainty during the period after the Second World War.

Entitled ‘After the Future’, the final room focuses on the resurgence of interest in the revelations of early scientific photography within areas of art photography today. It includes works by Walead Beshty, Ori Gersht, Sharon Harper, Joris Jansen, Idris Khan, Trevor Paglen, Sarah Pickering, Clare Strand and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

After the Future, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘After the Future’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

By setting the contemporary work apart from that of the modernist artists in Room 2, we highlight the gap that separates our own moment from theirs, and the fact that the earlier photographic experiments no longer represent the vanguard of visual culture.

The exhibition thus concludes by posing a series of questions: If the early scientific photographs no longer symbolise the new, what do they mean for artists working today? And what should we make of the widespread interest in the earlier forms and techniques evident in the work of so many contemporary practitioners?

In reply, we point to the wider contexts that may have informed this ‘scientific turn’, particularly the rapid expansion of networked digital technologies, and the profound changes to photography and culture this has involved.

By reflecting on artists’ glance back to photography’s past, we hope to gauge something important about photography’s present.

Revelations: Experiments in Photography is at Media Space until 13 September 2015. Click here to book tickets. An accompanying book edited by Ben Burbridge, entitled Revelations and co-published with MACK, is available to buy online from the Science Museum Shop. The exhibition transfer to the National Media Museum, Bradford where it will run from 19 November 2015 to 7 February 2016.

Photography and the Science Museum Group

As the current Media Space exhibition Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection draws to a close at the Science Museum, before re-opening at the National Media Museum, Head of Photography Kate Bush looks at the history of the Science Museum Group’s photography collections.

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at Media Space © Kate Elliott

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at Media Space © Kate Elliott

157 years ago this month, the earliest incarnation of the Royal Photographic Society organised the first public photography exhibition ever to be held in Britain at the South Kensington Museum.

Borne of the sense of optimism generated by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the South Kensington Museum was an institution set up to promote the arts and science in Britain, later dividing up into the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The exhibition was well received by public and critics alike, with The Observer saying that ‘The collection is… the best that has been hitherto exhibited… there are many works of a degree of merit which may not be surpassed.’

The venue chosen for the exhibition was a gallery situated above the museum’s Refreshment Rooms – the very first museum restaurant.

Media Space Café © Kate Elliott

Media Space Café © Kate Elliott

Today, less than a few hundred yards from that initial gallery sits the Science Museum’s Media Space, a bright and airy part of the museum building dedicated to exhibiting photography across two spaces and held together by its own ‘Refreshment Rooms’; the Media Space café.

The gallery’s current exhibition, Drawn by Light, showcases the highlights of the Royal Photographic Society Collection from the dawn of photography to the present. The exhibition was recently reviewed by The Observer, and was similarly well-received to its 1858 predecessor, with the newspaper’s art critic calling the assembled photographs ‘a stupendous selection’ and a ‘magnificent exhibition’.

In February 1882, Captain William de Wiveleslie Abney, the South Kensington Museum’s Director of Science and President of the Royal Photographic Society on several occasions, had a letter published in the British Journal of Photography stating that ‘the Director of the South Kensington Museum is anxious to obtain a collection illustrating the history of photography’. This represented the beginnings of what became the Science Museum Group’s National Photography Collection – a collection of international significance containing some of the most important items in the history of the medium.

Throughout the 20th century, as the Collection continued to expand, the Museum continued to exhibit photography, with a major part of the RPS collection shown in the Science Museum at the end of the 1920s, in a gallery just below where Media Space stands today.

The Science Museum Group acquired the RPS collection in 2002 with the help of the Art Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund, which added to the collection’s existing highlights which include the largest collection of work by William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of modern photography, including the Latticed Window, the very first photographic negative. It also includes the largest public collection of portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron. Other exceptional holdings include the Nièpce heliographs, the Herschel Collection and the Ellis daguerreotypes, as well as key work by Anna Atkins, Hill and Adamson, Lewis Carroll, Roger Fenton, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, Henry Peach Robinson, Peter Henry Emerson, Alfred Stieglitz and Fred Holland Day.

Gathering Water Lilies, 1886, Peter Henry Emerson © National Media Museum, Bradford

Gathering Water Lilies, 1886, Peter Henry Emerson © National Media Museum, Bradford

All of the major movements of 19th century photography are represented in the collection, which is situated in the fascinating National Media Museum archives in Bradford. The major focus of the collection’s 20th century holdings is on British post-war documentary photography. The jewel in the crown here is the archive of Tony Ray-Jones (showcased in our exhibition Only in England, which is touring to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery where it runs until 7 June), but there are also strong bodies of work by Martin Parr, Paul Graham, Chris Killip, Graham Smith and Peter Mitchell.

Location Unknown, possibly Morecambe, c1967, Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum, Bradford

Location Unknown, possibly Morecambe, c1967, Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum, Bradford

The Science Museum Group would not necessarily be the first institution on people’s lips if they were asked to name a committed collector of photography, but the collection as it stands today grew out of the birth of the medium when exhibitors at the Great Exhibition were unsure whether to situate their photo displays in the Science section or the Arts section. They chose to give their display its own site as an ‘independent art’ and photography has retained something of this middle ground up to the present day. The Science Museum’s Optics Collection has many pre-photographic camera obscuras as well as an exhibit on the grinding of lenses. The Aeronautics Collection has an example of a microphotograph flown into Paris by pigeon when the city was under siege in 1870-71.

The collection also continues to expand, both in size and in reputation, as more and more work by a diverse range of contemporary photographers is acquired and a wide programme of touring and loans ensures that our rich archive is a resource which is shared as widely as possible.

‘Now, more than ever, photography plays a prominent role in contemporary life and part of the collection’s function is to provide opportunities for dialogue between genres, periods and other contexts for photography. Building and using a comprehensive collection of the medium’s various cultural histories, produces a greater understanding of what is particular, special and important to photography in the visual arts, media, popular culture and the everyday.’ – Greg Hobson, Curator of Photographs, National Media Museum, Bradford.

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection runs at Media Space until Sunday 1 March, and then at the National Media Museum from 20 March to 21 June 2015. The next major Media Space exhibition, Revelations: Experiments in Photography, opens on 20 March 2015.

The National Photography Collection is housed at the National Media Museum, Bradford. Find out about guided tours and how to make an appointment to visit the collection here.

Make Life Worth Living – Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72

In this post Hedy van Erp, co-curator of the new Media Space exhibition Make Life Worth Living, looks at the background of the exhibition and the significance of the photographs on display.

Nick Hedges was commissioned by housing charity Shelter to document the poor conditions suffered by many around 1970. He travelled around the UK for four years and photographed people in slum properties in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and other major cities. A selection of these images – 100 out of the 1000 vintage prints held by the National Media Museum – can now be seen in the Virgin Media Studio at Media Space.

Children playing at 'Weddings', The Gorbals, Glasgow, 1970 © Nick Hedges  National Media Museum, Bradford

Children playing at ‘Weddings’, The Gorbals, Glasgow, 1970 © Nick Hedges National Media Museum, Bradford

Detached from the original Shelter context and combined with many images which have never been seen before, Make Life Worth Living does not just show the misery in housing around 1970, but is in fact a cinematic narrative of Hedges criss-crossing the UK from 1968 to 1972. The selection is reminiscent of Robert Frank‘s groundbreaking book The Americans. Like Frank, Hedges at the time was a true ‘noir’ photographer.

It has been said that Nick Hedges’ work for Shelter is strongly related to the American tradition of social documentary established by photographers like Lewis Hine and Paul Strand. Moreover, an analogy can be found in the work of Walker Evans, when he was hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the poor conditions of the farmers in pre-Second World War America.

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Hedges also continued the rich tradition of socially committed photography in Britain. In fact, few photographers have captured better than Hedges what is both so upsetting and captivating in the look of Britain around 1970. Yet this is more than the aesthetics of poverty. Hedges’ Britain is at times a gritty place full of shadows, where you get the feeling things may not end well, but you still can’t stop looking.

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

The images taken outside the derelict houses – street scenes, city and rural landscapes – have a casual, almost drive-by feel. But you quickly see how carefully Hedges chose the images he shot over four years. Signs, interiors, children and animals keep cropping up, echoing from image to image. These images possess an energy and a visual harshness that contradict what may at first glance be mistaken for objective photojournalism.

It’s not only permissible, but also rewarding to take pleasure in Hedges’ images; the way light falls on a kitchen floor, the terraced houses running down to a factory, the pile of shoes in the window of a second hand shoe shop, or the vacant stare of a mother holding her baby. When life is hard, which it often is in these photographs, we have to look hard, but when we do, Hedges shows us beauty in many places.

A playground by the shipyards. Govan, Glasgow, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

A playground by the shipyards. Govan, Glasgow, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Apart from showing beauty, disconnection and decay, Hedges’ poignant work offers us an important part of Europe’s past and culture. 40 years later, his Shelter archive is an incredibly strong body of work with which Hedges created history with his camera, history that happened in the form of scenes that can now become symbolic archetypes embedded in a national consciousness. Nick Hedges shows us life worth seeing – the words ‘worth seeing’ in fact being a gross understatement.

Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72 runs in the Virgin Media Studio at Media Space until 18 January 2015. Entry to the exhibition is free.

Media Space unveiled to film, theatre and TV celebrities

Blog post by Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

The museum’s plans to create a £4 million Media Space - a showcase for photography, visual media, technology and science - were outlined a few days ago to leading figures in drama, film and the arts, from Jenny Agutter and Imogen Stubbs to Terry Gilliam and Ben Okri.

Call the midwife actress with Ian Blatchford and Roger Highfield.

Call the midwife actress, Jenny Agutter OBE, with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (left) and Director of External Affairs, Roger Highfield.

Kathy Lette, Eammon Holmes and Michael G Wilson

Australian author Kathy Lette, Presenter Eamonn Holmes and Film Producer and Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation, Michael G WIlson.

Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, give an overview of how the new venture will open on the second floor of the museum this September to display some of the finest collections on the planet while speaking at a lunch organised by Chris Hastings of the Mail on Sunday, also attended by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

Ian Blatchford's speech.

Director of Science Museum Ian Blatchford welcoming guests to the lunch.

Media Space will draw on the National Photography Collection held by the National Media Museum, Bradford. The first exhibition will be Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr,  and the inaugural installation in the Virgin Media Studio will be by digital artist studio collaborators Universal Everything, supported by Hyundai Motor UK.

Michael G Wilson

Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation and executive producer of the James Bond movies, Michael G WIlson, addresses Dame Diana Rigg and guests at the Sixth Arts Media Lunch.

Also addressing the lunch was Michael Wilson, executive producer of the James Bond films, who has been one of the most passionate supporters of Media Space over the years through his interest in photography, which dates back to the 1970s.

Between 2004 and 2012, Wilson was a trustee of the Science Museum and it was during this time he conceived a plan to develop a 1800 m² space in the Museum to display photographs, a venture which has now grown to include new media.

Today, Michael Wilson is a member of the museum’s Foundation , which “ensures philanthropic leadership”, encouraging donors to give their support to  the museum’s development.

Other guests included Lord Bragg, Haydn Gwynne, Lesley Manville, Eamonn Holmes,  Prof Steve Jones, Duncan Kenworthy;  Kathy Lette, Arlene Phillips and Brigitte Hjort Sorensen.

Also present was Ali Boyle, Project Leader on Collider, a new exhibition on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Opening in November 2013, Collider is being created with the help of Nissen Richards Studio, playwright Michael Wynne and video artist Finn Ross.

After lunch, many of the guests went on a tour of the museum’s award-winning Turing exhibition, given by curator David Rooney.

To view more photos from the sixth Arts Media Lunch at the Science Museum visit the Science Museum’s flickr gallery.

Babbage's Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

Happy New Year

We’re welcoming in the New Year with a look at just a few of the exciting things happening here at the Museum in 2013.

Zombie hordes will invade the Museum in late January as we explore the science of consciousness and debate the ethical implications of a Zombie attack. Running during Lates and over a weekend, ZombieLab will feature live games, performances and talks from leading consciousness researchers across the UK.

Babbage's Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

Babbage’s Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

British philosopher and mathematician Charles Babbage, famous for his designs of automatic calculating machines, will be the focus of a new display this spring, as the Museum showcases the newly digitised Babbage archive and its collection of technical plans, drawings, scribbling books and letters.

In the summer, we’ll open Media Space, a brand new 1800 m² venue with two exhibition spaces and a café bar. A collaboration with the National Media Museum, Media Space will showcase some of the 3.2 million items from the National Photography Collection in a series of temporary exhibitions.

Media Space

Before work began on Media Space. Image © Kate Elliott

Photographers, artists and the creative industries will use our collections to explore visual media, technology and science through the wider programme of exhibitions and events at Media Space.

Finally, we’ll end the year with an exploration of one of the great scientific and engineering endeavours of our time: the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva.

Opening in autumn 2013, this new exhibition will give visitors a close-up look at remarkable examples of CERN engineering, including the vast dipole magnets. We’re working with CERN scientists and theatrical experts to produce a truly immersive experience which transports visitors into the heart of the LHC.

A Higgs boson is produced in the ATLAS detector

A Higgs boson is produced in the ATLAS detector at CERN

Also on display in the exhibition will be historic objects from our collections, including the apparatus used by JJ Thomson  in his electron discovery experiments and the accelerator Cockcroft and Walton used to split the atom.

So whether it’s Zombies, Media Space or the Large Hadron Collider that interests you, there’s something for everyone in the Museum this year.