An innovative exhibition taking place in Birmingham in the summer of 2017 aims to shed light on the pioneering role the city played in the early years of the history of photography.

Thresholds, a virtual reality art project by internationally acclaimed artist Mat Collishaw and photographic historian, Pete James, will take audiences back over 170 years to the dawn of the photographic era. VR headsets will allow visitors to walk around a recreation of ‘The Model Room’, an exhibition of Manufactures, Inventions, Models and Philosophical Instruments staged at King Edward's School, New Street, in August 1839.

This important exhibition, which included 93 photogenic drawings by William Henry Fox Talbot, was one of the first major public exhibitions of photography in the UK. Visitors will share the sense of the wonder and awe experienced by their Victorian predecessors, many of whom were seeing photographs for the very first time. The exhibition will include what are thought to be the two earliest surviving images made in Birmingham, two views of New Street made from King Edward’s School around 1842 and previously unseen material from King Edward’s School Archives.

Supported by Colmore Business District (BID) and partners including King Edward’s School and the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, and Birmingham City University, the exhibition will reveal how Birmingham was at the forefront of developments in the technology that revolutionised the way we see, record, represent and understand the visible and invisible world.

Having already secured support from a range of public and private funding sources in the city, Thresholds is now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. More information on the project and the rewards on offer – which range from downloads of digital wallpapers to VIP visit to the exhibition -
can be seen at:

Thresholds will be premiered at Photo London, the prestigious annual international photo fair in April 2017. It will then be shown at Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, between June and September, alongside a series of related events and activities. It then tours to the National Media Museum (Bradford) and Laycock Abbey, Talbot’s former home, now a National Trust property, throughout the second half of 2017.

Pete James, former Curator of Photographs at the Library of Birmingham and now a Fellow at Birmingham Open Media said:

In 1880 a local writer cast Birmingham in the role as a midwife in the birth of photography when he wrote:

‘If Birmingham cannot claim to have originated photography, she is at least entitled the merit of having assisted at its birth. She can also worthily claim the credit of having given it substantial help as it struggled through many difficulties to maturity. She can, also, claim that she gave the new art most welcome aid and sympathy; and that some of the most successful photographic discoveries and operators have been amongst those of her own household.’

This challenging, exciting and innovative project will promote Birmingham’s pioneering achievements in the history of photography to local, national and international audiences.

Mike Best, Colmore BID Board Director, said:

Over the last five years CBD have worked in partnership with Pete James to present a series of innovative and award-winning photography exhibitions including Face to Face: Brian Griffin – a retrospective (2010); Take to the Streets: Photographs by Magnum Photographers (2011) and Nicklin Unseen (2015).
Following the huge success of the award-winning Phyllis Nicklin exhibition, we are now supporting Thresholds, a very different type of photography project which will engage and inspire audiences of all ages, and provide a unique way to learn about the significant role Birmingham played at the very dawn of photography.


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