The National Portrait Gallery began acquiring photographs shortly after its foundation in 1856, although the first photograph did not officially enter the Collection until 1932. Since then, the Gallery’s Photographs Collection has expanded to include approximately 250,000 examples of the medium. Dating from photography’s earliest days following its discovery in 1839, to the present day, it represents a comprehensive collection of techniques and movements in British photographic portrait history.
This display celebrates recently acquired portraits by contemporary artists whose work joins the recent revival of early photographic processes. Through their use of pinhole cameras, photograms and tintypes, unique pieces are favoured over mass production, highlighting the moment of creation. Shown alongside historical examples, aesthetic, technical and conceptual connections between the art of the past and the present are revealed. Distilling portraiture and photography to their basic qualities of shape and the processing of light, these works both challenge and create a dialogue with conventional approaches to portraiture.