Britain in Focus – Episode 1

The first episode of the BBC’s new photography program aired on Monday (March 6).

Called Britain in Focus the program looks at Britian’s photographic history from its discovery in 1839 to the present day. The first episode looked at the first 60 years.

The host is Eamonn McCabe who in a distinguished photography career includes 4 Sports Photographer of the Year, 6 Picture Editor of the Year and Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society and The National Museum of Film, Photography and T.V.

Talbot, H., F., (1835), Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey

Starting in 1835 at Lacock Abbey McCabe opens with the British inventor of photography¬†Henry Fox Talbot. McCabe goes on to explain why Talbot isn’t the inventor due to his shy and quiet nature allowing Louis Daguerre to present his Daguerreotype to the French Academy of Science in 1839. A big difference between Talbot’s Calotype and Daguerre’s Daguerreotype was the Calotype produced a negative from which positive images were made.

Moving forward McCabe cover Fredrick Scott Archer who developed the wet plate in 1851, Roger Howlett who covered the building of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in 1857 photographs of which appeared in the Illustrated Times and Roger Fenton.

Howlett, R., (1857), Isambard Kingdom Brunel


McCabe covers Fenton in two parts first in 1853 when Fenton help found the Photographic Society, later the Royal Photographic Society. Then when Fenton went over to the Crimea with the British Army during the Crimean War. It is considered that Fenton is one of the earliest war photographers and considering that it was with wet plates the 350 images are consider a success even though there is some controversy with two images of The Valley of Death.

Moving away from individual photographers McCabe looks at the development of the commercial studio photographer with a visit to Edward Reeves established in 1855 and still ran by his decedents. It looked at the rise of the Carte de Visite of which Queen Victoria was an avid collector.

The final quarter of the program looked at Julia-Margaret Cameron, Paul Martin and Peter Henry Emerson who all helped developed the photographic style. Cameron used a soft focus in her photographs while Emerson looked at depth of field in his. Martin used the new developments of dry plates and the quick exposure time to created a snapshot photograph.

While this was hopefully the most technical episode due to the rapid development of photography it still manage to maintain interest throughout.


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