V&A Museum

21 Aug

Last week I had a trip up to London and soon found myself in the Victoria & Albert museum hunting down their photography section. Although I have been there a few times before, I was still looking forward to it. If you’ve never been, the photographs in the V&A are in a sizeable dark room on the third floor. Perfect for looking at photos without getting any glare!

As it was the summer holidays I prepared myself for the worst and told myself to expect small excitable children running round and asking questions and shouting at some volume. This was certainly the case, as soon as I stepped through the doors but the further away from the shop I got, the quieter it became until the time I got to my destination and it was silent. Bliss.

So I had a look around; I had forgotten how wonderful it is to look at a daguerreotype* and found myself staring at the two on display for a few minutes. The images were small – one of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opening the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, the other a portrait of a lady named Martha Emma Roper – but both were stunning. They look more 3 dimensional than standard photos; this might be because of the copper plated glass used to create them, which adds a certain depth.

Halfway through my look round – I make a point of looking at everything (yes I’m that sort of person) – I became enamoured with a certain image, which if I’m honest took me by surprise. In fact after I had finished the room I went back specifically for it. Taken in 1892 by Paul Martin, the image, titled ‘Trippers at Cromer’ shows what looks like a family paddling in the sea. Martin disguised his camera as a leather bag in order to gain candid shots of the general public and was one of the first photographers to do so. In doing this, he captured everyday life as it was, creating a rare glimpse into the past rather than the stiff formal portraits we are so used to seeing from that era.


image from here

In my second viewing of the photo, I was alone. I walked from one end of the room to the other and save for the security guard, there was no one else around. How could this be, that in one of the busiest cities in Britain, in one of the best museums around, during the school holidays I found myself in a room, with only one other person. I had quite a moment actually.

There’s something about photography from the 19th century that really is fantastic. Maybe it’s the fact that they were still playing around with it at this point and nothing was quite perfect – some of the photos on display had faded over the years, as they hadn’t been processed properly. It adds an air of mystery to the image, as if it came from a dream or other world. Or maybe it’s because they document the same places but in a time so different to our own, yet in the grand scheme of things, these events happened less than 200 years ago. Clothes, politics and climate might have changed, but we humans still enjoy the sensation of dipping our feet into the cold North Sea. Rather comforting, isn’t it?

I was mightily impressed with the collection, it featured work from the Bechers, Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau and it’s definitely worth the trip over there. Plus there’s all the other displays; sculpture, jewellery, costumes and fashion. Not forgetting the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are a stone’s throw away and who doesn’t like wondering around looking at dinosaur skeletons?

*A daguerreotype is slightly different to a photograph. While a normal photo is taken with film and has a negative that you can print off multiples of the same image, the daguerreotype is a copper plate that is exposed and essentially becomes the final print.

About the Writer: Daisy is an irregular photographer, wannabe writer and full time female. In between tea and toast breaks she spends far too much time on the internet bloggingtumbling and tweeting. She is unapologetic in her love of the Spice Girls.

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