On 18 – 19 May, the Special Edition of The London Photograph Fair returns to The Great Hall at King’s College, adjacent to Somerset House. The fair, which coincides with Photo London, is the only established fair devoted to vintage photography in the UK.
There are several themed collections on show this year and “Travel & Exploration” takes in over 100 years of photographic history. The camera went travelling almost as soon as soon as Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot had launched their respective photographic processes in 1839. There was a whole world waiting to be photographed for the first time. Many of the early photographers took “The Grand Tour”, bringing back views of monuments, temples and scenery. Among them are Francis Frith who photographed extensively in Italy, Egypt and the Holy Land and James Robertson who documented Constantinople.
For some however, it was not a question of “taking the tour” but starting a new life. The French photographer Gustave Le Gray, who currently holds the record for most expensive 19th century photograph sold at auction ( 917 000 euros, 2011, Roullac auction house, France), decided to escape his many creditors in 1860 and accompany Alexander Dumas to Italy. Dumas returned to Paris while Le Gray made his way to Egypt where he would remain until his death in Cairo in 1884. Included in the collection is a rare 1867 view by Le Gray, of the temple at Denderah, Upper Egypt. It’s the first time it’s exhibited in the UK.
Life for the travelling photographer was not only cumbersome and uncomfortable. It could also be dangerous. On show is Felice Beato’s, “Conversation in a Tea House”. It was taken in 1868 when Japan was ravaged by civil war. Shortly before, Beato had narrowly escaped death when he came across some extremely hostile Samurais.
There are several other masters of photography included in the collection, Captain Linnaeus Tripe who photographed extensive in Burma and India in 1850’s, Herbert Ponting, official photographer on Scott’s disastrous expedition to the South Pole and William J. Lavarre who photographed Indian tribes in South America during the 1930’s.
With the explosion of the picture magazines it eventually seemed there was little left to photograph on Earth. Space exploration would open up new possibilities and on show will be a panorama of the landing site on the Moon, taken from the Lunar Module windows, August 15, 1971 and a portrait of astronaut Ed White, the very first portrait of an astronaut in space, taken June 3 1965.