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Deborah Ireland and the history of photography
By Deborah L Smyth
Posted on 11/17/2020 11:00 PM
Deborah Ireland FRGS is a freelance curator and author specialising in the history of photography, with a particular interest in travel photography and the history of exploration.

She served as assistant curator at The Royal Photographic Society and director of photography at AA Publishing. She has curated exhibitions and written for the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Photographic Society. She is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has been a judge on Travel Photographer of the Year since its inception in 2003. Her most recently published book is “Hasselblad and the Moon Landing”.

Deborah talked us through the history of photography, from the days of Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre in the early nineteenth century, to Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbing Everest with a Kodak Retina in 1953. She showed us details of the developing photographic technology and examples of some of the wonderful images taken in those 120 years or so.

The engravings based on daguerrotypes of the Parthenon taken in 1839 were impressive, and Roger Fenton’s domes of the churches of the Kremlin put my Kodak instamatic versions from the 1970s to shame.
Much of the early travel photography, though, was far less touristy than those images, as much of it was war photography. The need to monitor and broadcast progress at war brought out the storytelling aspects of photography early in its life. And the equipment was so different to what we are now used to. Next time we are debating which bag to take, and what tiny gadgets to slip into the little zip pockets, we’ll now just be very glad we aren’t having to load the kit into a Photography Van, or carry an unwieldy dark room tent or suitcase.

It was a fascinating talk, showing the important role photography had, and still has, in recording history. I am sure we all learned something new, be it about photography or about history more generally. Whilst some of us will be tempted to play more with film and dark rooms, and some of us will be digging out our View-Masters to get that old style stereo feel, there was inspiration aplenty for all of us. 

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