Following recent archival acquisitions that have expanded our collections of photography, the Bodleian Libraries is pleased to announce the opening of a season of photographic exhibitions and talks at the Weston Library, home of the Bodleian’s special collections.
The photography exhibition programme starts with A New Power: Photography in Britain 1800-1850, open until 7 May 2023. A New Power explores the early history of photography, starting with the invention of the medium and the dissemination of photographic images throughout British culture and ending with the famous Great Exhibition of 1851. A wide range of early photographs will be on display, alongside paintings, prints, sculptural busts, books, periodicals, panoramas, and even elements of the first computing engine. The exhibition will show how photography intersected with all aspects of a nascent modernity – including industrialisation, science, art, celebrity culture, journalism, publishing, class conflict, colonialism, and consumer capitalism – revealing photography’s crucial role in making Britain the society it is today.
A second photography exhibition, Bright Sparks: Photography and the Talbot Archive (open until 18 June 2023), celebrates the acquisition of the archive of the British inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877). It features items from the archive in conversation with works by contemporary artists, including Cornelia Parker, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Martin Parr, and Garry Fabian Miller. This conversational format brings the archive to life in new ways, making it accessible to a wider audience and showcasing how Talbot’s varied work and innovations influenced and inspired later artists. It is accompanied by a display, Natural Magic: Experiments in Photography (open until 4 June), which features work by Megan Ringrose, Nettie Edwards, Karel Doing, Andrés Pardo, and Garry Fabian Miller – artists who have spent a lifetime exploring the chemical potentials of photography.
The two exhibitions mark a year dedicated to photography at the Bodleian Libraries. They follow important acquisitions including the Bern Schwartz archive, the archives of William Henry Fox Talbot, the archives of Helen Muspratt, and Daniel Meadows, material from the Hyman collection of 20th-century British photography, and Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey’s collection of photobooks. The Bodleian will host a varied diary of events, including a scholarly symposium, public talks and programmes, and the continuation of public lectures by contemporary fine art photographer Garry Fabian Miller running at the Weston Library until October 2023.
Curated by Geoffrey Batchen, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford and a specialist in the history of photography, both exhibitions mark and celebrate this exciting new era at the Bodleian. The Library has embraced its central role in the conservation of photography both in Oxford and internationally, in line with the increasing prominence of photographic study and research at the University of Oxford.
Geoffrey Batchen affirmed that:
Oxford University is quickly becoming an internationally significant centre for the study and appreciation of photography, offering a powerful conjunction of world-class collections, exhibitions, publications, expert staff and academic classes. A number of important exhibitions have already been held, but 2023 will be a highlight during which the public will be able to get an insight into the depths of the Bodleian’s collections and engage in an imaginative way with the magical art of photography.
To support the Bodleian in this endeavour, the position of Curator of Photography was created following a generous gift from the Bern and Ronny Schwartz Foundation, with Dr Phillip Roberts as the inaugural post-holder.
Dr Roberts commented:
Photography was the most valuable tool for capturing and sharing information since the book, and so it is absolutely right that the Bodleian Libraries make it a key part of its mission to preserve the riches of human knowledge. From the discovery of silver darkening under sunlight to grand optical and alchemical treatises, and the earliest photochemical experiments, the Bodleian collections tell the story of the discovery and proliferation of photography. Our upcoming exhibitions will explore the early years of the new medium and demonstrate its profound impact on all of our lives. 2023 will be a transformational moment for the Libraries. Through great exhibitions, lectures, hands-on workshops, and important new acquisitions, we will launch a new era at the Bodleian. Photography will take its rightful place as one of the critical records of the modern age.
Find out more
A New Power: Photography in Britain 1800–1850
1 February 2023 – 7 May 2023
Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford
Bright Sparks: Photography and the Talbot Archive
17 March 2023 – 18 June 2023
Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford