I hadn’t read much about this exhibition prior to going along - not ideal preparation admittedly - but it has unfortunately become a bit of a bad habit of mine. However, in this case, I didn’t feel that it detracted in any way from my enjoyment and appreciation of it. The reasons for this were in part due to the amount of time we spent in the exhibition (approximately 2 hours) but also because it was a small group of only 5 students, and we were given plenty of opportunity to discuss the exhibition both during and after, with some excellent guidance from our tutor, Robert Enoch.
Revelations: Experiments in Photography is an exhibition which aims to show how photography has given ‘form to the intangible’, that is, how through the development of photography it has enabled us to see things which are normally invisible, or at least unclear, to the unaided human eye. However, this wasn’t an exhibition solely about size, as one might think; it wasn’t just about photographs taken with powerful microscopes or telescopes (although there was an aspect of this), but was more about how the development of photography, usually for scientific purposes, revealed certain ‘hidden’ things which by using certain techniques would later be used by photographers for the purposes of art.
The exhibition was divided into 3 rooms within the Media Space area of the museum. The first room covered the pioneers of photography; photographs taken for scientific discovery. Some of these images wouldn’t normally be used in photographic exhibitions because, initially at least, they weren’t deemed ‘artistic’ - they existed simply for the purposes of science. The second room covers the use of the newly discovered photographic techniques to produce a blend of art and science; artwork with a ‘sciencey feel’, if you like. Certainly there were images in this intermediate room which were clearly created in the style of the original scientific photographs. The final room was simply photographic art, albeit with a link to the science we had seen previously. From a curatorial perspective there was certainly a distinct flow to the exhibition: pioneering photographic techniques which led to scientific discovery, being utilised by later photographers to create art.
Beyond the reasons for the exhibition itself, there are of course the actual photographs themselves. As standalone images there were some very interesting ones of course. For me, one of the ones that really caught my eye was the daguerreotype of the moon by John Adams Whipple and George Phillips Bond. I never expected to see an image such as this. It was very small, maybe only 2 or 3 inches across and was displayed in the traditional decorative case. Others that I really appreciated were the images of the The Great Nebula in Orion by Andrew Ainslie Common. What I found interesting about these were the way that the lengthening exposure times (from a minute to 30 minutes) showed more and more of the light coming from in and around the stars in the cluster. Although this seems like common sense to anyone that understands exposure times, the fact that the long exposures showed more of the stars normally hidden for the human eye is what made this so fascinating. The bullets firing through the fruit such as Bullet through Apple by Harold Edgerton were also eye-catching, as was Sarah Pickering’s Muzzle Flash which was displayed as a large scale print; prominently facing visitors as they entered the final room of the exhibition. Berenice Abbott’s work, during the time she was working at the MIT in the late 1950’s, also demanded attention. She had been asked, as a photographer, to capture images displaying the laws of physics. And of course, there were the ubiquitous photographs of movement by Eadweard Muybridge, and the often copied ‘splash’ images. Less interesting to me as photographs were the more conceptual and abstract work of Laszlo Moholy Nagy and Man Ray (although I do feel slightly apprehensive about saying this as our tutor Robert was, I think, particularly keen on their work!) The radiographs and x-ray images of Becquerel, Roentgen and Josef Maria Eder & Eduard Valenta - important as they were at the time of their making, and this should be stressed - unfortunately seemed slightly common place as photographs now. I felt the same way about the photomicrography of Fox Talbot and the experiments with magnetism by Bohm and Crookes.
All in all though I thought this was a very interesting and thought-provoking exhibition, which displayed an array of important images spanning over 150 years of photography. I felt it was well themed and curated and kept us all interested both in the exhibition itself and in the discussion afterwards. Robert was keen for us to take on board the idea of experimentation and creativity. With Robert's comments and this exhibition in mind I will certainly try to include more experimental techniques in my own work. The whole theme of the exhibition was of course how experimentation in photography in the pursuit of science has led to the development of techniques which have been used by subsequent photographers working in various genres, including of course, in the present day.