Getting to London sometimes is a dread for me. The crowd, the noise, the shoulder bumps, the weaving, the smell, oh yeah, and the crowd, tends to make me claustrophobic easily. Though the visit here are worth my while as I had started to notice exhibitions are ample, yearly affair particularly if it relates to photography. A current exhibition, “Revelation: Experiments in Photography” (REP) over at the Science Museum is complimentary to the previous exhibition, “Drawn by Light” (which is now is over in Bradford). The latter was a splurge of 19th Century and early 20th photographic goodness, which is pretty much I see it as a celebration of photography, with popular and unknown image-makers altogether cramped into the exhibition space.
The reviews of REP is beautifully summarised over at the Telegraph.co.uk, and I would like to add a bit more as walking through the space, I began to see what I felt, and it was such a good experience to encounter. The exhibition space was divided into three spaces, most likely to be a curatorial decision to divide and to put a linear narrative of photography’s progression throughout time, chronological aligned.
Though the images may not be as much as the “Drawn by Light” exhibition, this particular exhibition retains more of photography as a part in the progression of science. Through it, we begin to understand how it generate the proper illustrative need of/for that world. Subjects which was too small, too far, too slow, or too fast, the ability of image-making of such event could be captured, sliced and I understood, sympathised and cheer to their struggle in observing and used calculated procedures in getting the tones and values to generate such images.
The highlight of my walk was of course, the first space of the three, it was mostly about the experiments which was achieved from silver chlorides on paper, of course, the daguerreotypes plates (a few, but gratefully these were there). Doing daguerreotype, I saw John Draper’s solar spectrum (1842) plate, which was essential guide to understand how daguerreotype’s silver iodides on silver plate sees colour spectrum (why this isn’t in any of photography history books is beyond my guess).
I wished I could have made an image of it, but darn, why is it photography exhibition such as this always prohibits photography?!? Amazing irony.
The first space was a summary of images which I understood that the size of the produced images were barely palm size, it was due to the size of the optical lens used and I find it comforting that I could come up to it, just inches away of these images to just enjoy and imagine to be in the shoes of these image-makers at awe with what they came up with.
The highlight to me was of Auguste Adolphe Bertsch’s works, shoot, I’d pay the £8.00 entry just to see just those works. Nothing beats seeing the soft supple paper, his name debossed beautifully on the lower right of his prints, and the almost translucent brown images, which was close to be mistaken of highly successful rendered illustration. I understood how some sceptics in those age of early photography could allege these to be a fraud as I recall from several photography history literatures, where the claims of images made without the hands of the artisans seems to be an absurd proposal.
I understand that now after seeing how meticulous, and how such intricate small sized images on paper or plate may arrive to such allegations. However, the general idea of the first space was on the application in science soon after its discovery. And the acts of image-making through solidifying the moment on the plate of what was observed through the optics utilised in science, was applied successfully. In the second space (images made from 1920’s onward), photography was more elaborated with other methods such as utilising X-rays, magnetism, and electricity.
Though the overall sense was to illustrate the ideas of what was mentioned in the laws of science, particularly physics, and documented through photography made it accessible to track these events as real phenomenon, as these could be captured, calculated and measured just as how it was theorised through proposed ideas. Bernice Abbotts images certainly had presence in that space. And the democratising of knowledge happens here, making literatures more appealing and complimentary. In the last space, which to be honest, was the least of my desire to say much.
I know such images have its own space and place in this form of revelation (still no idea why Khan’s “After Muybridge Human and Animal Locomotions” was of any reason to be there, which was photoshopped lot and bundled works). But this third space somehow pushed me back, or the viewers back off from the walls to be at ‘awe’ the large prints (which reminds me of unrelated review of “Third Space’ by Anita Wilson).
Much anti-thesis in observing these images close, rather than pull us in and be intimate, it push us off towards the only available bench at the exhibition in the centre, and almost asking us to sit and stare upwards to them. Its all about the size of the print I suppose. There’s nothing wrong in the methods, as these deserves to be in gallery, as it has more of aesthetic appeal and elegance, but its too much of a jump from the previous spaces, which requires at most an arm-length distance to appreciate such images. This exhibition is a good supplementary to my appreciation of image-making, as usual, what was seen in textbooks are never fully realised the small elements what you could find from the original prints/plates.