Lower Ground Floor
The Kodak Gallery takes you on a journey through the history of popular photography, from the world's first photographs to the digital snapshots of today. Most of the items on display in the gallery are taken from our collection of 35,000 objects and images donated by Kodak Ltd.
The Invention of Photography
This area of the gallery tells the story of the invention of photography explains how discoveries in chemistry and the action of light resulted in the first permanent images – photographs (literally 'written with light'). Examine the work of Niépce, Talbot and Daguerre – the pioneers of early photography – and view the camera obscura, invented hundreds of years before the birth of photography.
The First Photographic Portraits
The discoveries made by Talbot and Daguerre in 1839 rapidly led to the exploration and development of the photographic process, and in 1841 the first commercial portrait studios appeared. Learn about the early commercial use of photography and how portraiture became the most popular application for the new medium. On display is the earliest known photograph of a Daguerrotype portrait studio at work and a selection of original photographs from the 1840s onwards which used this process.
We have reconstructed a typical photographic portrait studio c.1865, the design of which did not alter greatly until well into the 20th century. To keep exposures as short as possible it was important for the studio to be well lit – you'll notice that one of the walls and the ceiling are illuminated. This would have been done using natural light, hence the name 'daylight studio'. You will also see a replica collodion negative, which was the mainstay of the photographic industry for four decades, having superseded the Daguerrotype in the 1860s.
Victorian Drawing Room
During the 1860s there was a popular craze for collecting and displaying portraits of family, friends and the celebrities of the day. Next to the Daylight Studio we have recreated a Victorian Drawing Room where you can view a range of ambrotypes which use the 'wet plate' collodion process, and the popular carte de visite portraits of the era. A carte de visite is a small paper print mounted on a visiting card or displayed in cases, ornate albums and intricate frames, a selection of which you can view in our Victorian Drawing Room.
The Birth of Popular Photography
Examine the move from photography being confined to professionals and a few wealthy amateurs, to its emergence as a truly popular pastime. In the 1880s, more convenient, more sensitive and simpler to use 'dry' photographic plates were introduced; this was followed by the introduction of the Kodak camera in 1888 and the Brownie camera in 1900. Take a walk around our Kodak display cases to view cameras from the 1880s onwards.
While photography developed as a popular pastime, many amateurs began to take the practice more seriously. Take a look at the enthusiastic amateurs who joined photographic clubs and societies, read photographic books and magazines and entered competitions. See the trophy and medals from the Kodak International Competition of 1931, and the Leica camera, which was the first commercially available camera and successful due to its compact size, strength and rapidity of use.
The Post-War Years
The period following the Second World War saw the demise of the box camera, and in its place, the emergence of the Instamatic camera, Polaroid instant photography and the (still) hugely popular 35mm SLR camera. Read about the British photographic industry facing increasing competition from Japan and the Far East, and colour photography becoming the predominant medium in the 1960s. You can view all of the popular models from the post-war years right through to the digital revolution.