By the mid 1800s, photography was bringing foreign destinations closer to home. Previously, if you wanted to know what far off lands looked like, you were reliant on descriptions or artistic interpretation. Photography provided an unprecedented ‘true’ picture of unknown places.
The growth in photography allowed armchair travellers to obtain a record of the world beyond their experience. It also encouraged those fortunate enough to have the means to travel, to venture to new exotic destinations where they could collect photographic mementoes of their holidays.
By the late 1800s, several professional photographers employed teams armed with heavy cameras, equipment and glass plates who would travel across Britain, Europe and further afield to China, Japan and the USA photographing popular tourist attractions and daily life in these unfamilar locations. Some employed sales representatives who would visit stationers and newsagents shops persuading them to stock and sell their company’s souvenir views.
Our latest Capital Collections exhibition features an album containing examples of some touring photographers’ work. We don’t know who compiled this photograph album but most of the photographs have dates noted underneath as if to indicate when the locations were visited. The dates start at 23 August 1881 and finish at 12 July 1882.
The album features scenes from England, Wales and Scotland and also places in Europe such as Genoa, Nice and Pompeii. Some of the photographers can be identified by their stamp on the image, but many are unknown. There are photographs by Francis Frith, a pioneer travel photographer who set out to create accurate and unromantic photographs of as many cities, towns, and villages of the British Isles as possible and sell copies of the photographs to the public.
Another photographer who features in the album is James Valentine from Dundee who produced Scottish topographical views from the 1860s. He later became internationally famous as a producer of postcards. George Washington Wilson, who established himself as one of Scotland’s premier photographers, is also represented. By the time of his death in 1893, his firm was one of the largest publishers of photographic prints in the world.
You can view all of the fantastic photographs from this early travel photography album on Capital Collections.