Salt And Silver: Early Photography At Tate Britain

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 43 months ago
Salt And Silver: Early Photography At Tate Britain ★★★☆☆ 3
Auguste Salzmann, A Cypriot statue. 1858-1865. © Wilson Centre for Photography
Auguste Salzmann, A Cypriot statue. 1858-1865. © Wilson Centre for Photography
Jean-Baptiste Frenet, Thought to be a Mother and Son circa 1855
© Wilson Centre for Photography
Jean-Baptiste Frenet, Thought to be a Mother and Son circa 1855 © Wilson Centre for Photography
Roger Fenton, Cantiniére (a woman who carries canteens for a soldier), 1855.  © Wilson Centre for Photography
Roger Fenton, Cantiniére (a woman who carries canteens for a soldier), 1855. © Wilson Centre for Photography

Londonist Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Early photography was a great sight more difficult to the point and shoot methods of today. The name of this exhibition refers to the methods used to create some of the earliest photography — silver salts when applied to light sensitive paper would darken and therefore create black and white photographs.

These are extremely rare prints and very fragile so they are understandably not on permanent display, and have been loaned for this exhibition. Architecture is strongly represented here as the long exposures of early photography lent itself to stationary subject matter. Highlights include the early construction of Nelson's column, French churches and Egyptian architecture. Landscapes, portraits and nudes are here too but they naturally have blurred edges to them due to the difficulty of capturing movement.

It's a historically interesting exhibition for those who want to know about how photography started out but the images feel very repetitive and there were no images that held our gaze. Considering this is a paid for exhibition, visitors with an interest in the history of photography were better served by visiting the wider ranging Drawn By Light at the Science Museum.

We at Londonist like to encourage debates on exhibitions so we've also included a positive review from Senior Editor Rachel Holdsworth:

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

One star, Tabish? Harsh. We can agree that it's repetitive — several rooms filled with photographs so small you really have to get up close and personal, with a lot of archaeological sites — but there's something alluring about looking into the faces of some of the earliest people to be captured as they really are, without the alteration of an artists' brush. One particularly affecting image is of a Crimean War soldier suffering shell shock, especially when you realise we have a potted history of his sad and short life recorded for posterity.

The image of the construction of Nelson's column kept us deeply engrossed, too, much to the irritation of other attendees (the photos are very small, and a thorough investigation involves a certain amount of exhibit hogging). You can see Morley's Hotel in the background, on the site of what's now South Africa House, and the hoardings surrounding the building site covered with posters despite strenuous warnings against bill sticking (the more things change, eh?).

We're not photography buffs but found enough to maintain interest; whether that interest is worth £10.90 is another question, and mainly why the rating isn't higher.

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860 is on at Tate Britain until 7 June. Tickets are £10.90 for adults, concessions available. There are also combined tickets available that will also grant access to the spectacular Sculpture Victorious.

Last Updated 03 March 2015