The Museum’s generous interpretation of ‘science’ has always embraced photography
Complementing our cameras and other photographic apparatus and materials, we have also collected photographs in their own right.
Our collections include specimens of the early photographic processes — from daguerreotypes to early colour photographs — and some surprising treasures.
Outstanding among them are:
- the early photographic experiments of Sir John Herschel, dating from 1839 to 1844
- a few experimental photographs by the inventor W. H. Fox Talbot, from the year of the invention, 1839, which are included with the Herschel collection
- two calotypes (salted paper prints) by Talbot, dated 1842, from a different source.
A daguerreotype of Notre Dame by Lerebours, about 1840, is the earliest example of the rival French process.
Capturing the art of science
There are extensive files of photographs of scientific instruments as well as a significant collection of portraits of scientists. Archival collections often include photographs, from the personal albums compiled by R. T. Gunther to the extensive photographs in the Elliott company archive, mostly taken for promotional purposes.
Although paper photographs of course predominate, we also hold glass negatives. The Museum has preserved glass lantern slides, dating from before photography to the 1950s, including the lecture slides of a number of scientists, which are of archival rather than photographic interest.
Naturally our interest has been more in the scientific or technical relevance of photographs than in their artistic or pictorial value. Even so, we also hold several notable items in this genre, including:
- calotypes by Hill and Adamson
- a version of Rejlander’s ‘Two Ways of Life’
- one of Julia Margaret Cameron’s famous portraits of Herschel, and
- an example of the work of Oxford’s own C. L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).