In these days of modern technology, it’s easy to forget that everything we have today is thanks to something that happened in the past – and the latest exhibition at the National Media Museum makes that abundantly clear.
Revelations: Experiments in Photography brings together art and science, connecting contemporary photos from respected artists with the original scientific discoveries that inspired them, recorded in the National Photography Collection. The latter is a permanent fixture at the National Media Museum, but this is your first chance to see the exhibition itself outside of London.
Photography and science probably isn’t something you’ve given a lot of thought to – which is what makes this exhibition so unique. Not only does it give you a chance to see what have come to be some of the most famous images of the twentieth century close up, but it also offers an insight into how the techniques that made them possible were first discovered.
With an intricate web of links that tie the images together, Revelations: Experiments in Photography brings together the likes of Ori Gersht, Trevor Paglen, Walead Beshty, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Clare Strand with some of the world’s earliest scientific photographs – and it’s impressive to behold.
“Ever since 1839, when William Henry Fox-Talbot utilised solar microscopes to take the world’s first microscopic images of insects and plants, photographers have been harnessing science to show phenomena that’s too small, too fast or too far away for the human eye to see.” Co-curator, Greg Hobson, the National Media Museum’s curator of photographs, told us. He’s been working with Dr Ben Burbridge of the University of Sussex to co-ordinate the exhibition.
“Contemporary art photographers have adapted and advanced the processes developed by the early pioneers, adding new layers of meaning and enquiry to their modern, intriguing and technically superlative works. It is a pleasure to show some of these at the Museum and to examine the influences and inspiration found in our National Collection.”
The exhibition has already premiered at the Media Space in London’s Science Museum, where it was met with rave reviews, so its foray up north is highly anticipated – and rightly so. It’ll bring Ori Gersht’s famed Blow Up (2007), which captures the explosion of colour as his flower arrangements do exactly what the name suggests, together with the early images of Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton – the men who captured the first still images of moving objects in the 1880s and late 1950s/early 1960s.
But that’s just the beginning. You’ll see the likes of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lightning Fields (2009) alongside Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton’s work tracking the path of an electric charge across paper from back in the 1890s. Then there’s Trevor Paglen’s vision of a distant military drone (2010) sitting beside early images of space, including John Adams Whipple’s Daguerreotype of the Moon (1851) and Andrew Ainslie Common’s Photograph of the Orion Nebula (1883).
This is a unique exhibition that will give you the chance to see some real trailblazers, both in terms of contemporary art and scientific discovery – so make sure you catch it while you can. After all, it’s absolutely free and only a hop, skip and jump from Leeds.
– Cover image: Insect wings, c.1840. William Henry Fox Talbot © National Media Museum SSPL
– The Life History of a Splash, c.1905, Arthur Clive Banfield © National Media Museum.
– Bullet through Apple, 1964 – Color © Harold Edgerton, MIT, 2015, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
– Negative Discharge, 1892, Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton © National Media Museum, Bradford SSPL