Nigel Overton – Photographic History in Plymouth

Learning we had a talk on the history of Plymouth was not the greatest moment in my life. However, it turned out to be an okay experience. It was long, it was slightly dull and I could not feel my left bum cheek by the time the two-hour talk was over, but I did find it insightful.

I didn’t have a clue how much photographic history there was in Plymouth. Union Street now famous for drunks, drugs and prostitutes was once the photographic hub of the 19th century. There was photographic studio after photographic studio selling portraits made with the new technology: Calotypes. (invented by William Fox Talbot).

The most interesting piece of information I learnt was there once a camera obsura, one of the first in this country, built on the Hoe. William Sampson built the camera obscura on Plymouth Hoe in 1827. It was originally a tent containing the camera, however, the sea breeze would blow the tent over mid exposure. This proved expensive, so the obscura was rebuilt as a brick structure to withstand the weather.

These days the center for photography is clearly in London, but it feels good knowing that a piece of the photographic history is propionate in Plymouth.


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