London through the lenses of the Victorians

Photographs of St Paul's Cathedral, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, as well as an image of a hippo at London zoo are among some of the earliest images

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The Independent Culture

Some of the oldest surviving photographs of London will go on display at the Science Museum next week. They are part of a wider exhibition of images from the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) archives of more than 250,000 photographs collected over 160 years.

A 1845 Daguerreotype of St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the earliest images of the landmark, shows the clock tower reversed back to front because of the mirror-like printing process. Juan Carlos Maria Isidro, Count de Montizon de Borbon’s hippo, circa 1852, is one of the earliest images taken at London Zoo .

“The hippo was donated by the ruler of Egypt to Britain – it was a celebrity at the time,” says co-curator of the show, Colin Harding, curator of photography and photographic technology at the National Media Museum. The magical picture of Leicester Square at night, was taken by Paul Martin in 1896, one of the first photo journalists and used a hand-held camera.

The British Lion, circa 1905, by Alvin Langdon Colburn is taken of the Lion in Trafalgar Square. “William Henry Fox Talbot photographed Trafalgar Square in the 1840s, but Colburn was a master of pictorial photography and took atmospheric photos of London landmarks at the turn of the century.”

The Heart of Empire (bottom right), circa 1923, by Alfred George Buckham, is a striking photo taken from a plane flying over the River Thames. “It is one of the earliest aerial photographs of London – he was quite daredevil.”

This is the RPS’s first big London show.  “We will show the entire history of photography from the earliest images ever taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce to Fox Talbot right through to the work of great contemporary photographers, including Donald McCullin, Martin Parr and Terry O’Neill,” says Harding.

Drawn By Light, Science Museum, London, SW7, 2 Dec to 1 March 2015 (; then the National Media Museum, Bradford, (www.nationalmedia, 20 March to 21 June 2015.