New Realities – The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Anna Atkins, Algae c.1843 - c. 1853 from Photographs of British Algae. Cynotype Impressions, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

This summer the Rijksmuseum is presenting a major retrospective of 19th-century photography. Three hundred photos from the museum’s own collection including portraits, nudes, cityscapes and travel photos, as well as scientific and commercial photography, and the first amateur snapshots will show just how varied photography was immediately after its invention in 1839.

Featuring work from leading photographers including William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton and Gustave Le Gray, one of the major highlights will be work by the first woman photographer, Anna Atkins, who is credited with publishing the first book illustrated with photographs. Work by George Hendrik Breitner, better known as a painter, will also be shown.

Georges Hendrik Breitner, Marie Jordan naked from the back, 1890, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Today photography is a universal language that everyone speaks and understands, but this was far from the case in the early days of the medium. There is a vast contrast between the casual snapshots of today and the experiments of the earliest photographers, which took such great effort to produce. This new medium caused a revolutionary shift away from the styles of imagery people were accustomed to seeing in paintings, drawings or engravings and  introduced an entirely new way of seeing and representing reality.

Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, Railwaybridge over the Lek near Kuilenburg (Culemborg), 1868 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

New Realities will show how people set out with their camera to explore the world, from personal life to the unfamiliar peoples of distant Asia. X-rays and photos of botanical collections will illustrate the use of photography in the scientific world. There will also be examples of practical applications such as police photographs of criminals, and the first uses of photography in advertising. The exhibition will cast light on how photography established its position as an artistic medium, initially with subjects and compositions derived from painting, and explores how when amateur photography took off the medium increasingly came to be used as a source of entertainment.

New Realities: Photography in the Nineteenth Century 17 June to 17 September 2017

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