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Pioneering photograph from 1845 gets first ever public outing at Museum of London Docklands
Called ‘Old Hungerford Bridge’, this delicate salt print photograph depicts engineering great, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s original Hungerford Bridge in the year it opened – 1845.

LONDON.- For the first time ever, visitors to the Museum of London Docklands will get the chance to see a rare and game-changing photograph dating from the mid-1840s – a time when photography was in its infancy.

The image, taken by photography pioneer, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 - 1877), in 1845 is the oldest photograph in the museum’s collection. It will be on public display for one month only, as part of the new art exhibition, Bridge, opening at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday 27 June.

Fox Talbot invented the precursor to the modern photographic process that dominated the 19th and 20th centuries – right up until digital photography replaced the act of taking a negative and turning it into a positive.

Fox Talbot began developing his ‘calotype’ photographic process in the 1830s but only published his work in 1839. Up until 1845 methods of fixing an image were not fool-proof – and it was not until that year that he made his major breakthrough.

Francis Marshall, curator of Bridge at Museum of London Docklands says: “I’m incredibly excited that visitors will have the opportunity to get up close to such a significant early photograph – taken at a time when the medium was still evolving. By contrasting the old barges in the foreground with the Brunel's new iron bridge, Fox Talbot highlights the technological advances of the 19th century. The photographic process he pioneered would dominate image-making for the next 150 years, until the dawn of digital photography. In a way, he is responsible for the way in which we see the world today. Ironically, Brunel’s bridge was demolished within fifteen years to make way for a railway crossing.

This delicate salt print has never been out on public display before. Because of its age and the fact that Fox Talbot only perfected his process in 1845; we are not taking any unnecessary risks with it.”

Early photographs are extremely fragile. For conservation reasons this photograph will be displayed in strictly controlled lighting conditions, where visitors will be invited to press a button to illuminate it to minimise unnecessary exposure to light.

Visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of the photograph throughout the first month of the exhibition’s four-month run. Opening on 27 June and running to the 2 November 2014, Bridge at the Museum of London Docklands draws on the museum’s significant art collections. It features rarely seen contemporary and historical artworks, photography and film to chart the visual history of London.

From Hungerford to Blackfriars, Westminster, Millennium and Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge design, Bridge looks at how London’s bridges allow people to move around and experience the city. It also explores how artists have long sought inspiration from, on and under this city’s magnificent bridges.

Featured artists include James Abbott McNeill Whistler; Charles Ginner; Christopher Richard Wynn Nevinson; Giovanni Battista Piranesi; William Raban and adventure photographer, Lucinda Grange, amongst others.

Brunel’s Hungerford Bridge was so-called as it was built to serve the Hungerford Market on the north bank of the river, which had been set up by Sir Edward Hungerford in 1682 as a possible competitor to Covent Garden Market. At 1,462 feet long, the bridge was one of the longest suspension bridges built at the time. Brunel was already working on several other projects when he took on the Hungerford Bridge work. An entry in his 1835 diary reads: ‘Suspension bridge across the Thames – I have condescended to be engineer of this, but I shan’t give myself much trouble about it. If done it will add to my stock of irons.’*

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