One thing I missed the most while lockdowns were going on in England, was to visit the Library of Birmingham. Not just because I like the modern architecture of its building, but mainly because of the vibes that the place encompasses. Thousands of books at your reach, a quiet atmosphere that helps you to concentrate on your class notes or to fully immerse in a fictional story. What I would discover, now that everything has reopened, is that the Library of Birmingham holds way more than just books or maps.

The building, on its fourth level, was hosting a historical travel. Destination? Eternity. Everyone who stepped into the exhibition Taking and Displaying the Photograph had the opportunity to navigate through a century of cameras, manufacturers, and photo albums. All of them with Birmingham at their lenses.

A sample of Birmingham’s photography heritage. Image: @davidtravelwriter

A small room full of big achievements and memories. That is how I would describe this event that has been part of the Birmingham Heritage Week 2021. This visual story starts in 1860 however, evidence of photography courses’ ads and manufacturing of photographic equipment in Brum is provided since the 1830s. Also, the exhibition shows the key role of the Birmingham Photographic Society in the early years of photography.

I was able to see original samples and models of cameras and other elements such as tripods, shutters, glass plates, enlargers, or lamps. In addition, and thanks to the chronological display of the show, one can appreciate the evolution not just of these devices but of the trade itself. Just so you know, there were more than 200 Birmingham-based companies that manufactured cameras and other photography accessories.

Some of the accessories displayed at the exhibition. Image: @davidtravelwriter

J. Lancaster & Son, Aldi Brothers… were some of the men that grew the photography business. But they were not alone. Helen Smith, Emma Barton, or Elizabeth Ann Hulme were female entrepreneurs that lead in the photography sector nationally and even internationally. Displayed in one of the panels, was The Awakening, a picture taken by Barton that shows a woman holding a little girl. The photo itself, and especially the look in the child’s eyes, is so powerful and pretty that dignifies the art of photography.

After wandering through dozens of cameras and hundreds of photographs, I must admit that the exhibition exceeded my expectations. It successfully combined three of my main passions. History, photography, and Birmingham. Every picture, a story. Every story, a tangible memory preserved by the work of men and women who refused to let them fall into oblivion. May we never forget to look the beauty of this world with immortal lenses.

Written by David F. Villar

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