Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery

The Evening Sun (Iphigenia), c 1860, by Oscar Rejlander

The Victorians lived in a world flooded with new optical instruments and physiological investigations, provoking anxiety about technological progress and the nature of beauty. Early photographers – like Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll, Clementina Harwarden and Oscar Rejlander – faced these issues head-on when experimenting with a fledgling medium. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, however, emphasises composition over novelty, pushing its audience to consider these photographers, shown together for the first time, as artists akin to painters.

While iconic portraits of celebrities like Tennyson and Rossetti fit the gallery setting, the emotive ‘art photographs’ featuring ordinary figures provoke the freshest ideas. Remarkably, their stylised backdrops and quietened narratives echo the rhythms and motifs of later Aesthetic Movement p