Skip to main content

National Science and Media Museum

Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds restages world’s first photography show

Two complementary exhibitions are to open at the National Science and Media Museum on Friday 2 March 2018. Thresholds—British artist Mat Collishaw’s virtual reality restaging of the world’s first major photography exhibition—opens alongside Immersion, an exploration of historical immersive audiovisual technology.

Thresholds (2 March – 7 May 2018)

In 1839 the world’s first major public exhibition of photographs took place at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, presenting examples created by one of the founding fathers of photography: William Henry Fox Talbot.

From 2 March – 7 May 2018, this historic event will be restaged at the National Science and Media Museum in Thresholds, artist Mat Collishaw’s virtual reality installation which plunges visitors directly into the environment of Talbot’s event, nearly 180 years ago.

Thresholds is a fully immersive portal to the past; visitors can walk freely throughout a digitally reconstructed room where they are able to marvel at Talbot’s inventions, touch the furniture and fixtures, and even feel heat from a recreated coal fire. Infrared sensors track each person’s movements, creating ghostly avatars that show their position and enhance the feeling of travelling through time. To complete the sensory experience Collishaw has created a unique soundscape, as Chartist protesters who rioted in 1839 on the streets of Birmingham can be heard (and seen) outside the room.

Collishaw said:

“I have been looking to work with virtual reality for a number of years and I’m delighted that it has now become a feasible medium for me to use in an artwork. VR’s ability to enable visitors to revisit the birth of photography—a medium that has come to saturate our lives—is uncanny and compelling. It’s also quite appropriate as VR is the total 360 degree immersion of the viewer within an image, and is itself one of the many innovations spawned by the invention of photography.”

Thresholds (available to ages 13+; £3 entry) is a collaboration between Somerset House, the Blain|Southern Gallery, Library of Birmingham, and features imagery recreated from original Talbot photographs and equipment held at the National Science and Media Museum.

Immersion (2 March – 24 June 2018)

Collishaw’s installation will be complemented by the exhibition Immersion (free entry), a display of historic items highlighting how innovators have constantly sought to use science and technology to create increasingly immersive sensory experiences in the fields of photography, cinema and recorded sound. 

Examples from the National Science and Media Museum’s world class collection, including one of the earliest Victorian stereoscopic cameras and objects relating to origin of the museum’s large-format IMAX and Cinerama screens, will sit alongside experimental stereo recording technology from EMI’s historic Central Research Laboratories and examples of stereoscopic equipment from Queen guitarist and photography collector Brian May’s personal archive.  

Highlights include the prototype of the OWL Stereoscopic Viewer developed by May and the London Stereoscopic Company for viewing classic or contemporary stereocards, and the 1960s stereo viewer given away by Weetabix which sparked his interest in stereophotography.

The EMI Archive Trust has loaned iconic objects relating to British inventor and engineer Alan Dower Blumlein’s ground-breaking experiments in stereo sound in the 1930s, which has enhanced the experience of listening to recorded music ever since. Original technology used at Abbey Road Studios during Blumlein’s test recordings will be displayed, including a binaural ribbon microphone and a pair of HB1 microphones, plus reproductions of the working notes and drawings he used during the development process. Blumlein’s family have also kindly loaned the exhibition the Technical Grammy Award he received posthumously in 2017.

Annie Jamieson, Associate Curator of Science and Technology at the National Science and Media Museum, said:

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show how historical collections can work with contemporary installations. Visitors will be able to see and hear that immersive audio and visual technologies have a long and varied history, and that VR is one of the latest in a long line of developments. Mat is demonstrating VR to amazing effect in Thresholds, and we’re especially grateful to the Blumlein family, the EMI Archive Trust, and Brian May for their generosity in loaning us such interesting and significant objects to enhance the complementary exhibition Immersion.”

Thresholds is available to visitors aged 13 and over, and costs £3. Immersion is free to visit and suitable for all ages.



For interviews, images, and any other requests please contact Phil Oates at / 01274 203 317

The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, opened in 1983, and has since become one of the most visited UK museums outside London. The museum explores the science and culture of image and sound technologies, creating special exhibitions, interactive galleries and activities for families and adults. It is home to three cinemas, including Europe’s first IMAX cinema screen and the world’s only public Cinerama screen outside the USA. Entry to the museum is free.

Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) is a key figure in the important generation of British artists who emerged from Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s. He participated in Freeze (1988) and since his first solo exhibition in 1990 has exhibited widely internationally.

For Thresholds, Collishaw worked with photographic historian Pete James; Paul Tennent from Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Labroratory; respected authority on Talbot, Larry Schaaf; architectural historian David Blisset; the team at VMI studios and the Whitehall Company, London.

EMI loans are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust

Alan Dower Blumlein Technical GRAMMY® 2017—courtesy of Simon Blumlein, part of the Alan Dower Blumlein Estate

OWL Stereoscopic Viewer and ‘Weetabix’ stereo viewer are courtesy of the Brian May Collection