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Early civil engineering photography on display

Anybody with an hour to spare in central London over the next six months could do worse than visit the British Library’s latest exhibition Points of View.

Curated by John Falconer and Louise Hide, this is the library’s first photographic exhibition, and given the strength of the material on display, one that is long overdue.

For members interested in photographs depicting civil engineering work, there is an opportunity to see the famous images from the early days of photography - Fox Talbot’s calotype of the scaffolding at Nelson’s column,Delamotte’s images of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham and Brunel at the Great Eastern.

The latter is a variation of the usual image, and in the form of a stereoscopic card that can be viewed hands on towards the end of the exhibition.

There are several views of British works in India, and a stunning large scale projected image of the construction of the Central Line at the start of the exhibition.

A happy accident

The British Library’s collections have developed almost by accident as a consequence of the acquisition of books containing photographs, rather than through collecting photographs as an art form or even to record buildings and events.

Only in the India Office collections can one see a policy where the authorities actively encouraged photography.

However, the Library’s Fox Talbot and Kodak collections more than make up for haphazard collecting policies of the past. For anybody interested in the history of photography these collections are displayed to great effect and provide a good insight into the pioneering days of photography and its popularisation at the end of the century.

The exhibition has been brought to life with loans from the museum in Bradford and specialist advice from Brian May. The exhibition runs until 7 March 2010 and is accompanied by a range of other activities.

Coincidentally, my colleague Val Lawless has mounted a display of some of her favourite images from the ICE archives. They can be seen at the ICE library.

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