ROSPHOTO State Museum and Exhibition Center presents an exhibition of works by prominent masters of the ‘golden age’ of British photography from the museum’s collection. The Russian viewer will see for the first time ever unique historical photographs, normally accessible only to museum specialists.

The ROSPHOTO collection of early British photography, the largest in Russia, is remarkable in content. It includes calotypes from the 1840s and the early 1850s and prints from wet collodion negatives from the second half of the 1850s. The invention of calotype (salt prints) marked the beginning of the history of photography as a means of producing an unlimited amount of positive images from one negative.

The exhibition will display 60 original prints on salt and albumenized paper, all of which exist in a single copy on the territory of Russia.

The first prints—monochrome, blurry, and grainy, resembling drawings or engravings—reflect the aspirations of the pioneers of photography to use this medium for creating artistic images. The inventor of calotype, Henry Fox Talbot, inserted the following notice into his book The Pencil of Nature, explaining the concept of photography to those unfamiliar with it.

“The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.”

Besides, Talbot put a special emphasis on the practical implications of photography, such as printing multiple copies, scaling images, and prospective use of photographs in catalogs. Hence, among the treasures of the exhibition project, one can find a rare photograph entitled “Porcelain” from the book “The Pencil of Nature”, depicting collections of cups and porcelain figurines. Moreover, the exhibition features the view of Walter Scott’s grave from Talbot’s book “Sun-Pictures of Scotland”, dedicated to the writer whose oeuvre influenced the photographer greatly.

The exhibition also presents works by the photographers of Talbot’s closest circle, such as his assistant and co-author of the Pencil Nicholaas Henneman, and cousins John Dillwyn Llewelyn and Calvert Richard Jones. One can hardly imagine the ‘golden age’ of British photography without the contribution of prominent Scottish calotypists David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, the inventor of wet collodion process Frederick Scott Archer, and the first military photographer Roger Fenton—prints by these authors are included in the exhibition as well. A special focus is given on the works by one of the first female photographers, Thereza Mary Dillwyn Llewelyn.

The objects on display are original prints that hardly ever leave museum storage facilities. Vulnerable and fading, these photographs require special storage conditions and can only be exhibited for a very short time period. Pursuing the idea of the ‘open collection’, ROSPHOTO finds a way to show them to the public. Dedicated to the 15th anniversary of ROSPHOTO, this exhibition is an unprecedented event in Saint Petersburg. During a month, one can have access to the original masterpieces of early British photography, immerse in the Victorian era, and get an insight into the very beginnings of photography.