Revelations. Experiments in Photography

20 Mar — 13 Sep 2015 at the Science Museum in London, United Kingdom

30 JANUARY 2015
Insect Wings, c.1840, William Henry Fox Talbot © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL
Insect Wings, c.1840, William Henry Fox Talbot © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL

Stunning, rare early scientific photographs are to go on display for the first time alongside significant works they inspired by some of the 20th century’s pre-eminent art photographers in a major exhibition at Media Space.

Revelations explores the untold history of the enormous influence of early scientific photography on photography in modern and contemporary art. The pioneers of photography harnessed a tool to view and present phenomena indiscernible to the naked eye in striking new ways. This remarkably original exhibition examines how subsequent generations of photographers have recognised, developed, celebrated and critiqued the incredible aesthetics that resulted from those early experiments.

Taking ground-breaking work by figures such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey as its starting point, the exhibition explores the impact of both the technical and aesthetic insights of early scientific photography on photographic art.

From the 1840s, scientists were using photography to record things too large, too small or too fast for the human eye to see. William Henry Fox Talbot’s experiments with photomicrography, some of the earliest scientific photographs ever made, will be on show alongside striking works by contemporary artists including Trevor Paglen, Idris Khan and Clare Strand.

Co-curated by Greg Hobson, Curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum, and Dr Ben Burbridge of the University of Sussex, the exhibition explores the fertile photographic ground where art and science meet.

Iconic works on display include examples of the high speed photography produced by Berenice Abbott and Harold Edgerton at MIT, Carl Strüwe, Laure Albin-Guillot and Joris Jansen’s differing uses of photomicrography, the varied visual treatments of electrical force by Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton, Man Ray and Hiroshi Sugimoto, and camera-less photography created by László Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes and Walead Beshty.

Dr Ben Burbridge, Co-curator of Revelations, said: ‘Early scientific photographs both exposed and surpassed the limits of human vision. In doing so, they revealed important formal possibilities, and spoke in clear and articulate terms about man’s changing relationship to science and technology. These qualities lie at the core of the photographs’ appeal for twentieth-century artists; and they have found currency again among artists working in the context of our own ‘digital age’.

The exhibition begins by showcasing the pioneering scientific photography produced during the 19th and early 20th century and the ways it helped expand the visual field. From here, it plots a course through 20th century art, examining the ways in which iconographies and methods drawn from earlier science helped to shape the face of modernism. The exhibition concludes by looking at the work of contemporary artists, questioning what their interest in earlier scientific photography suggests about our current visual landscape.

Media Space is a major new photography destination, presenting a programme of world-quality exhibitions, commissions and events for national and international audiences and celebrating the Science Museum Group’s unrivalled National Photography Collection. It comprises a main gallery and a studio gallery, as well as a vibrant café/bar, and is located on the second floor of the Science Museum.

The Principal Founding Major Donors and driving force behind Media Space are Michael and Jane Wilson; Founder Donor is the Dana and Albert R Broccoli Foundation and the Principal Founding Sponsor of Media Space is Virgin Media. Media Space has also received generous support in the form of donations or artworks from a large number of individuals, companies and artists.

A book featuring essays by Burbridge and Hobson alongside Ian Jeffrey, Dr Kelley Wilder and Prof. Gottfried Jäger will be published by MACK to accompany the exhibition.