The Drawn by Light Exhibition at the Science Museum

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Although the ‘Drawn By Light’ Exhibition will have closed in London by the time you read this, we feel it’s worth talking briefly about our visit as we reckon that this new exhibition space on the second floor of the Science Museum is now the Number One place to view photography in London.

There were actually two exhibitions on when we visited, the ‘Drawn by Light’ show that had an entrance fee and another, free exhibition by Nick Hedges in the huge open space next door. The show was called ‘Make Life Worth Living’ and featured photographs commissioned in 1968 by the housing and homelessness charity Shelter.

The ‘Drawn By Light’ Exhibition blurb was as follows…

“From serene landscapes to exquisite nudes, discover over 200 extraordinary highlights from the collection of the world’s oldest surviving photographic society, by some of the greatest names in photography.

Founded in 1853, the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection is now held at the National Media Museum, Bradford as part of the National Photography Collection. With over 250,000 images, 8,000 items of photographic equipment and 31,000 books, periodicals and documents, it’s one of the most important and comprehensive photographic collections in the world.

In collaboration with the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen in Mannheim, Germany, and with the support of The Royal Photographic Society, the Science Museum has made a selection of key treasures from this extraordinary collection.

This selection includes some of the earliest known photographic images dating back to the 1820s, by pioneers of photography such as Roger Fenton, William Henry Fox Talbot and Julia Margaret Cameron, alongside contemporary works by some of modern photography’s most influential figures, such as Don McCullin, Terry O’Neill and Martin Parr.”

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The Science Museum is connected by underground tunnel to the South Kensington tube station and it’s also very near the V&A, which is known as one of the greatest museums in the world (it also has a great photography room as well). If you’re interested in gaining inspiration for your own creative work you should plan on spending all day between these museums, in our opinion.

The ‘Drawn By Light’ Exhibition was spread over three rooms and can best be described as an inspiring and educational photographic collection showcasing and highlighting the works of masters, with world famous work alongside hidden highlights from the extensive RPS collection that you’ve probably never seen before.

For those who are unaware, the RPS collection wasn’t brought together for financial or patriotic motives but rather, simply, by passionate photographers for other photographers to benefit from.

The standout part of the show for me was in the second room where photos were displayed in the same manner as they would have been in the saloon style exhibitions of the 19th century. It was confusing, crowded and, because the images had neither name or title written underneath I found myself concentrating far more than I usually would on the work itself. So often nowadays I find myself looking between title and work, gathering an image from both sources, but here all that mattered was the image which meant I had to look harder to see the purpose of the image’s existence. And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Of course, as with any exhibition there were a few low points. Martin Parr for one, who, similar to the English footballer Emile Heskey during the last decade, always seems to be around without anybody really understanding why other than he’s a very enthusiastic, pleasant chap. An even lower point was Steve McCurrys’ portrait of the poverty stricken Afghan girl, so celebrated by National Geographic readers yet so obviously fabricated and more cynical art piece than travel photograph with no right at all to be in the same room as the other work on show.

But the rest of the show was first class, and if you wanted authentic, brutal images of poverty then you could always forget McCurry and walk next door to the ‘Make Life Worth Living’ show.

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These hard-hitting photographs, exposing the poor housing conditions and abject poverty being endured by people across Britain, were of an incredible quality and show what a committed photographer can achieve if they’re interested in informing the public and trying to change things for the better, rather than impressing the public and trying to get famous. This exhibition will have also closed by the time you read this, but I urge you to google Nick Hedges and check his work out online, he really is a brilliant photographer.

Outside the exhibitions there was a decent cafe and gift shop…

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In summary, if you’re into photography then the Science Museum now has to be your first stop in London. As the guardians of the RPS collection you know they’re going to put on a great exhibition, there’s the option of viewing free exhibitions as well as paid ones and if you still need inspiration afterwards then the V&A is nearby, as is the Natural History Museum.

To discover more about the ‘Drawn by Light’ exhibition please visit: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/drawn_by_light

And to learn a little more about the Nick Hedges show, please see: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/make_life_worth_living.aspx

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