Pioneers of photography

The Anatomy Lesson with Dr George Rolleston by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The latest display in our changing Presenting… case showcases some pioneers of photography and features a recently-discovered original print of Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron…

In the early days of photography, in the mid-19th century, a number of photographic innovators had close links to the Museum and its collections. Perhaps the most famous of these is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll. Dodgson was an author and mathematician at Christ Church College in Oxford, and also an accomplished early photographer.

Dodgson’s friends were often the subjects of his photos. A well-known example is Alice Liddell who, as well as sitting for portraiture, provided inspiration for Dodgson’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as did the Dodo in the Museum’s collections.

The image at the top of the article is titled The Anatomy Lesson with Dr George Rolleston and was taken by Dodgson around 1857. It shows Dr Rolleston, Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford at the time, pictured with a selection of specimens from the Museum’s collections.

‘Charles Darwin, Naturalist’, 1868, Julia Margaret Cameron, The Royal Photographic Society Collection © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

‘Charles Darwin, Naturalist’, 1868, Julia Margaret Cameron, The Royal Photographic Society Collection © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Two of Dodgson’s subjects were accomplished photographers in their own right, and perhaps the most famous female photographers of their time: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) and Sarah Angelina Acland (1849-1930).

Cameron’s innovative and distinctive style of portraiture raised photography to a true art form. Her intentional use of shifted focus and experiments with process and finish gave an ethereal look to her works resembling the artistic style of the contemporary Pre-Raphaelites.

Many prominent scientists sat for Cameron, including naturalist Charles Darwin. She took the portrait above in 1868 at her home on the Isle of Wight. An original print of this photograph, made by Cameron, was recently discovered in the Museum Archive, uncatalogued. It features her signature on the back and the blind stamp from her printseller in London on the front.

'Mr Ruskin & his old friend at Brantwood' by Sarah Angelina Acland, 1893

‘Mr Ruskin & his old friend at Brantwood’ by Sarah Angelina Acland, 1893

Sarah Angelina Acland, inspired and taught by Cameron, is best known for her innovations in colour photography, but she also took many black and white photographs while learning the art form. The portrait above features her father Sir Henry Wentworth Acland and the artist John Ruskin at his home. Both Ruskin and Acland were instrumental in the founding of this Museum, and Sarah even helped to lay the founding stone in 1855.

In a 1904 Royal Photographic Society exhibition Acland was the first to exhibit work combining images taken with red, green and blue filters, three years before the launch of the colour photography process invented by the Lumière brothers.

These images, including the original print of Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron, are on display in our Presenting… case until 24 January.

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