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National Science and Media Museum

Britain in Focus: A Photographic History to open

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Britain in Focus: A Photographic History (17 March – 25 June 2017) is a major new exhibition at the National Media Museum, exploring the fascinating and remarkable history of British photography; from everyday snapshots to world-renowned iconic images.

The exhibition partners a three-part documentary series on BBC Four. Also titled Britain in Focus: A Photographic History, the series is presented by award-winning photographer and picture editor Eamonn McCabe, and is part of a wider season of programmes on the channel exploring photography in the UK.

Both the exhibition (17 March – 25 June 2017, free entry) and the series start their journey with the dawn of photography in Britain in the 19th century, before charting its progress throughout 20th century to the present day, and the impact of the social media explosion. 

Britain in Focus not only illustrates how a selection of acclaimed photographers documented, reflected and commented on their home country, and in doing so became known around the world, but how countless others have also contributed to the recording of national and social history over nearly 200 years. 

Alongside pictures taken by anonymous soldiers in the First World War trenches and press shots of historic moments, the exhibition includes examples from the colourful world of postcard producer John Hinde; John Bulmer’s groundbreaking images from the North of England, which appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine in the 60s; WHF Talbot’s photographs of Lacock Abbey in the 1840s—some of the earliest ever taken; a selection of Jane Bown’s portraits of cultural figureheads from the 60s and 70s; Martin Parr’s inimitable views of the 1980s; Eamonn McCabe’s reports from the Heysel stadium tragedy; and Fay Godwin’s visual hymns to the British landscape.

Among the pioneers featured are Julia Margaret Cameron, Alvin Langdon Coburn and Cecil Beaton, as well as contemporaries currently living and working in Britain, such as Nadav Kander, Peter Mitchell and Mishka Henner. 

Through their images, Britain in Focus also traces the path of an industry: how glass plates gave way to film cartridges, black and white transformed to colour, and photographic paper was replaced by digital pixels. A selection of cartes de visite—one of the first commercially available methods of sharing photographs—sit with a selection of images from the social media network Instagram, originally posted by a teenager from Huddersfield.

John O’Shea, Senior Exhibitions Manager at the National Media Museum, said: 

“Throughout Britain in Focus we see the fundamental role photography and photographers have played in recording the last two centuries in Britain—not only major social changes and historic moments, but also everyday life. Equally the exhibition shows the development of photography over this time, pointing to the incredible pace that technology, technique and subject matter have advanced, as its popularity made it the medium of choice for people to view and record their lives.”

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four, said:

“Partnering with major cultural institutions is a core part of the BBC Four offer, and I’m delighted that we’re working with the National Media Museum on this major celebration of British photography over the last 150 years.”

Britain in Focus: A Photographic History is a BBC Four and National Media Museum partnership.

Britain in Focus: A Photographic History is broadcast in three parts weekly from Monday 6 March 2017 on BBC Four, and is available to catch up on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission.