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Britain in Focus: A Photographic History

In partnership with BBC Four, this exhibition explored the changing ways we share and consume photographs—from the rapid technological progress of the 19th century to the social selfies of today.


What does a Victorian carte de visite have in common with a selfie on Instagram? How has photography shaped our ideas about Britain's history, culture and identity?

From the 19th century to the present day, innovations in photography have radically changed the way Britain is represented and understood. Britain in Focus: A Photographic History, created in partnership with BBC Four to complement the TV series of the same name, illustrated how British photographers—amateurs and professionals alike—have documented, reflected and commented on their home country.

The exhibition included some of the earliest examples of social documentary photography—David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson’s portraits, and William Henry Fox Talbot’s pioneering images of Lacock Abbey—and showed how First World War soldiers doubled as citizen photojournalists, using Kodak’s vest pocket camera to create a unique record of the conflict.

Britain in Focus covered landmark images of the 20th century from the colourful world of postcard producer John Hinde to Fay Godwin’s visual hymns to the British landscape. Also featured were John Bulmer’s groundbreaking images of the North of England; Jane Bown’s portraits of cultural icons; Martin Parr’s inimitable views of the 1980s; and a series of photographs of the Heysel Stadium tragedy captured by Eamonn McCabe, presenter of the BBC Four series.

What will the defining images of the 21st century look like? Mishka Henner creates startling, thought-provoking pictures using material found online, pushing the boundaries of what we think of as ‘photography’. Meanwhile, the work of Instagrammer Molly Boniface shows how the internet age has made photographers of us all.

Britain in Focus traced the path of an industry: how glass plates gave way to film cartridges, monochrome transformed to colour, and paper was replaced by pixels. From Julia Margaret Cameron to Nadav Kander, it examined the visions of photographers whose images have helped define Britain.

Britain in Focus: A Photographic History was a BBC and National Science and Media Museum partnership.

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