Thursday, 29 January 2015

Part II: Photography Through The Years at the V&A

This is Part II of my feature on the temporary photography display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which ran from January 2014 until 17 January 2015. If you have missed Part I, please click HERE.

As with Part I, please excuse the reflection of the overhead lighting and my own reflection on the glass-framed photographs.

The early 20th century saw the standardisation and simplification of photography processes that allowed the craft to be accessed by the mass audience. The more adept ones chose an impressionistic style imitating paintings. Such 'Pictorialist' photographers promoted the cause of photography as a fine art rather than a mechanised medium.

The White Friars by James Craig Annan, Photogravure, 1894

Scottish photographer Annan was one of the first to use the Kodak snapshot camera. He was a member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, a society founded in 1892 to defend photography's status amongst the arts. They mastered chemical processes and printing techniques. The above photo of Venetian monks exhibits Annan's talent for capturing movement and his talent as a printer.

Heavy Rose, Voulangis, France by Edward Steichen, Photogravure, 1914 but printed in 1981

This is probably the last photo taken by Steichen in France before the outbreak of the First World War. Steichen was aspiring to be a painter when this photograph was taken, thus the painting-like quality. The image of sensual blooms slowly withering can be viewed as a metaphor for the ensuing tragedy.


The period between the two World Wars turned photography into a fitting tool for recording the dynamic streets and dizzying heights of the expanding city. Some avant-garde photographers combined extreme vantage points of high and low that created an abstract interpretation. Others combined photographic imagery with typography or used camera-less techniques to create visuals beyond which the naked eye can see.

Fashion photography, portraiture, and documentary photography flourished during this period.

Abstract Composition by Curtis Moffatt, gelatin silver print, about 1925

Moffatt created abstract photograms or 'Rayographs' in collaboration with the artist Man Ray in Paris.  Rayographs were made in the dark room by placing objects directly on photographic paper to make the exposure. What makes photograms unique is that no camera or film is involved. 

Paris by Marianne Breslauer, gelatin silver prints, 1929

Breslauer also trained with Man Ray, and like Ilse Bing, used the Leica to take street photographs from unexpected vantage points. Shot from above, the compositions capture the hustle and bustle of a sunny Parisian street.

Akt Positiv, Akt Negativ by László Moholy-Nagy, gelatin silver prints, 1931 but printed in 1970

Moholy-Nagy saw photography as the art form of the future and was fascinated by the ways technology could enhance artistic practice. A painter, designer, film-maker, and theorist, he explored the positive and negative elements of photography and its mechanical capabilities. From this, he created photograms and photomontages inspired by his interest in the combination of light, space, and time.

Paris, Rue de Valois by Ilse Bing, gelatin silver print, 1932 but printed in 1988

Bing was one of the first to adopt the Leica, the new 35-mm hand-held camera that enabled photographers to capture fast-moving events. Her style were cropped compositions, quirky angles, and aerial views that often fused old and new elements of Paris in a single frame.

Salzburg by Wolfgang Suschitzky, gelatin silver print, 1932

Suschitzky was a freelance photojournalist who shot documentary stories for magazines such as Illustrated and Picture Post. The above was taken during an outing with the Viennese photography school he attended. He later worked as a cinematographer on films including Get Carter which starred Michael Caine.

After World War II, photography was viewed not only for documentation purposes but also for invidual expression or to communicate a personal vision. Magazines and fashion houses hosted these expressions. Photography also began to be used in the service of conceptual art.

Givenchy Hat, Paris by Frank Horvat, gelatin silver print, 1958

Horvat studied art in Milan, and decided to pursue photojournalism after meeting Henri Cartier-Besson. He brought a fresh reportage approach to fashion imagery, shooting on a 35mm camera using available light. The above photo was shot at the Longchamp racecourse in Paris, for the fashion magazine Jardin des Modes.

Marilyn Monroe, Beverly Hills by Arnold Newman, gelatin silver print, 1962

Newman is best known for his studies of politicians and artists for LIFE magazine. This portrait of Monroe, deep in conversation with the poet and biographer Carl Sandburg, was taken at the home of Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein, seven months before her untimely death. The photograph has a grainy quality because it was printed from a small portion of a negative.

The photographs are now back in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the V&A where you will find other objects of interest.

Hope you picked up some notes about the beginnings of photography. Pop in to the V&A when you are in London. Most exhibits are free!

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road

Saturday, 24 January 2015

PART I: Photography Through The Years at the V&A

I came for two exhibits on the day I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was feeling unwell though, so I chose to see this one as it was ending in a few days.

The V&A was the first museum to collect and to exhibit photographs in 1852 and 1858, respectively. The temporary display chronicled the history of photography from its inception to the modern times. The selection presented "...celebrates the creative language and visual appeal of photographs in many forms."

Please excuse the reflection of the overhead lighting and my own reflection on the glass-framed photographs.

Louis Daguerre from France and William Henry Fox Talbot from England were the proponents of photography as a viable profession. But it was Talbot who discovered the photographic negative which became the dominant form of photography until the digital age.

This temporary display focused on the V&A's museum photographers. The first museum photographic service was born in 1856 when Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A, then the South Kensington Museum, appointed his brother-in-law Charles Thurston as museum photographer. When he died suddenly, his sister, Isabel Agnes Cowper, took over. She was probably the first woman to hold such a role.

Portrait of Mrs Andrew Pritchard by Antoine Claudet, on hand tinted daguerreotype, 1847

Claudet was a student of Daguerre's and was among the first to open a photographic studio in London. Daguerreotypes were unique and positive (as opposed to Talbot's negatives) images made on highly polished copper plates coated with light sensitive silver. The effect was a neutral grey tone that made the sitter corpse-like, so they were sometimes painted over by hand to appear life-like.

Scientist in his Laboratory by John Benjamin Dancer, hand tinted daguerreotype stereograph, 1851

In the mid-19th century, photographers were viewed as part scientist and part alchemist. An inventor with interest in photography, John Benjamin Dancer staged this scene where a man was surrounded by technical instruments. One of them was a stereoscopic viewer used to view the above daguerreotype in three dimensions (3D).

Dandelion by Anna Atkins, cyanotype, about 1854

The first woman photographer, Anna Atkins used the cyanotype process to create images esteemed for their scientific and aesthetic appeal. Cyanotype process, invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842, was done by placing specimens on light sensitive paper where the image is imprinted under the rays of the sun, without the use of a camera.

Bredicot Church by Benjamin Bracknell Turner, calotype, about 1850

The calotype process was invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1840. Turner was licensed by Talbot to practice the technique where a negative is placed in contact with a sheet of sensitised paper in sunlight, producing a positive print of the same size.

Bell Harry Tower, Canterbury by Francis Bedford, albumen print, 1855

The above photograph was exhibited in 1856 by the Photographic Society of London (now the Royal Photographic Society) and was purchased by the Museum's founding director Sir Henry Cole. It was part of the first group of photos that marked the beginning of the Museum's collection of the art of photography.

Academic Study by John Watson, Albumen print, 1855

This was intended as a work of art or as an aid to artists. The model is seen from the back, as opposed to the more titillating convention of the time. The absence of reflection in the mirror suggests that the glass was removed or blocked during printing. 

The Anatomy Lesson with Dr George Rolleston by Charles Dodgson, Albumen print, 1857

Dodgson is also known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The multi-faceted Dodgson was  not only a mathematics don at Christ Church, Oxford, but also an amateur photographer. He photographed this group during an anatomy lesson in the Anatomical Museum at Christ Church in 1857. The original print was rephotographed by a contemporary to create this copy.

The second half of the 19th century saw photographers from the West travelling within and ouside Europe, producing images of commercial, documentary, social, and artistic value.

Portrait studios thrived around the time and people started collecting miniature format portraits for albums.

Soldiers at Camp by Roger Fenton, Salted Paper print, 1855

Fenton was among the world's first war photographers. He used wet collodion process to produce images of the British army and topographical views of the Crimean War.

Indian courtesans by an unknown photographer, Albumen prints, about 1860
When India and Sri Lanka were under British rule, many British photographers artistically conceived ethnographic and anthropological images of the people. They were the equivalent of souvenir shots and for the viewing of armchair tourists back home who travelled vicariously through these photos.

Raphael Gallery by Isabel Agnes Cowper, Albumen print, about 1870

The seven Raphael Cartoons display became hugely popular at the Museum and were frequently used as a teaching aid to art students. The above photograph appears to show in-progress painting studies from the Cartoons, which were probably made by students of the Royal College of Art.

Guardbook, about 1873-1874

The Museum's photographic service kept albums known as guardbooks when it started operations in 1856. They contained small negative prints the Museum Photographers produced. The Museum staff and guests wishing to have new prints made consulted the guardbooks. These now serve as invaluable records documenting the early years of the V&A's photographic service.

Next post, we'll continue with more series of photos highlighting photography over the years. 

Cromwell Road

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Escape to the V&A

As I get older, I find myself retreating quite more often into my solitary enclave. 

If I can recall correctly, The Economist's Intelligent Life once asked a group of writers and authors in their section 'The Big Question' what their choice of escape is when everything becomes too overwhelming. Columnist and author Arianna Huffington mentioned that she looks within herself. 

Nothing's too overwhelming as of late, except it was my birthday a week ago. Now, that's overwhelming for some. I decided a couple of years back that I would celebrate my birthday doing something artsy or cultural on the day. 

So I found myself staring at her as she greeted me from the aptly named Exhibition Road entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

More fondly called the V&A, it is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design housing a permanent collection of 4.5 million objects in its 145 galleries. It's a must to pop in when you find yourself in London.

The one thing I love about living around London is I don't seem to run out of first times. 

Above is the tunnel from South Kensington tube station along the Piccadilly Line. After nearly a decade of living here, I haven't set foot there as I used to only take the bus to get to work in Knightsbridge from where I used to live in West London. But as with most Londoners I have met, none of us is born and bred, so that makes me a resident tourist.

On the Piccadilly Line, get off South Kensington station. The signages will point you straight to the above entrance. Be prepared to get sidetracked though as the other museums might lure you instead.

The V&A Museum is the first museum in the world to offer a refreshment facility. The interlinked Café rooms are now called The Gamble, Poynter, and Morris Rooms.

Above is The Gamble Room which was the original Refreshment Room. Designed by James Gamble, the walls and ceilings are made of decorative and elaborate ceramic and enamelled metal plates and tiles. I have been to the V&A several times before but had not been to the café. I bought lunch from Benugo and shared a table with a couple of ladies who were just as preoccupied with admiring the architecture. It was tempting to fire away on social media, but I patted myself on the back for posting only one Instagram shot of the premises. 

On the architectural history page of the V&A, it's mentioned that the windows are full of Victorian mottoes celebrating the joys of eating and drinking. "Hunger is the best sauce." "A good cup makes all young." Looking up and around me, amidst hushed conversations and ruminative moods, it was indeed a body and soul nourishment.

It was yet another chance for me to practice with my new Canon EOS 100D. My camera was my date. We're at the getting-to-know-each-other stage. It may take a while, but it looks promising.

I'm quite fascinated by chandeliers and lighting fixtures. Is there a medical term for that?

Originally called the Grill Room because it was fitted out to broil chops and steak, it's been renamed as The Poynter Room in honour of its designer, Edward Poynter. Museum visitors used to come here for breakfast. 

In the 1860s, it was a revolutionary move by Sir Henry Cole, the first director of what was then called South Kensington Museum, to initiate the participation of the students in decorating the museum. Unheard of during the time, the ladies in the tile-painting class at the Schools of Design in the museum produced these tile panels that now adorn The Poynter Room.

I stood here for a good few minutes admiring The Poynter Room, through to The Gamble, and The Morris Room, designed by one of the most famous designers of the Victorian period, the textile designer William Morris.

I mentioned being sidetracked earlier. It can't be helped. I came to the V&A for two exhibits, but managed only one. On my next post, I'll take you to that display for which I dragged myself out of bed.

See you next time!

Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
020 7942 2000

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The New Baby's First Holiday In The Countryside (Part II)

Very near Bodmin Moor in Cornwall are the picturesque coastal villages of Rock and Padstow. Whereas Bodmin Moor where Jamaica Inn is located, can be dark, mysterious, and even foreboding, both Rock and Padstow are very homely and inviting, we found ourselves thinking again about how we can afford to pack our bags, work only when we want to, and live a stress-free life in the country. 

We made Jamaica Inn our base while we drove around the charming surrounding villages. I took more photos to test my new Canon EOS 100D DSLR, of course, which was a present from Mr Tittle-Tattles.

My camera was a day old around the time I took these photos, so I had no idea yet which settings to use in certain conditions. Needless to say, manual focusing and zooming were totally alien to me. I aim to give you better visuals in the future so I can properly take you with me in my travels. 

In the meantime, enjoy these photos, and if you missed the previous post, please click HERE

As some of you may know, Cornwall is home to the traditional cream tea: a form of afternoon tea meal consisting of scones, clotted (not whipped) cream, and strawberry jam, and served with tea and milk. From Rock, where it was sunny yet freezing on Boxing Day, we drove to the fishing port of Padstow in search of some freshly baked scones. 

Mr Tittle-Tattles and I have a bucket list of places to visit, and we were so chuffed to have finally ticked having cream tea right in Cornwall, just when the year was about to end and travelling out of London wasn't planned at all. I must say, I credit him for my newfound spontaneity. As a diary-abiding citizen, last-minute plans are not in my nature that they throw me off-kilter. But I learnt to just jump in the car and look forward to listening to his iTunes where I got acquainted with The Sisters of Mercy's 'More' and Massive Attack's 'Teardrop'.

But I digress.

Cream tea at Cherry Trees

If you fancy a trip to Cornwall, visit for information, accommodation, attractions, and photos. 

More practice shooting next time!

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