Historic images plucked from the Royal Photographic Society's (RPS) famous collection go on show at the Science Museum in London from today, as organisers defend the £8 entry cost.

Photo: © Edward Weston

Drawn by Light features more than 200 exhibits from the Royal Photographic Society Collection, which has been housed at the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford, West Yorkshire, since its move there 11 years ago. The RPS itself was founded in 1853.

The show includes images dating back to the earliest days of photography, captured by pioneers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and British photography inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, whose experimental cameras are on display.

It also showcases the work of modern-day photographers such as Don McCullin, Terry O’Neill and Martin Parr.

Leicester Square, 1896, Paul Martin.web

© National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL

The Science Museum says the show will allow the public to ‘discover stories behind some of the world’s most famous photographers and their works, and explore how photography has fundamentally shaped our perception of the world’.

Entry to the exhibition, which takes place at the Media Space gallery inside the museum, costs £8 – a move that has drawn criticism from at least one observer.

When the exhibition opens at the NMM in Bradford next year entry will be free, according to the RPS.

Photographer Andy Blackmore criticised organisers over the entry fee. He told Amateur Photographer (AP): ‘It’s disgusting. It should be a voluntary charge… They [the images] should be available to see, for free.’

Blackmore claimed: ‘Given the images on show, I think it is relatively outrageous. It is a random selection for what are supposed to be benchmarks in the history of photography.’

Among those positive about the show, however, is Emma McLean, an entertainment agency account manager, who turned to Twitter after seeing a preview. She wrote: ‘So excited to see the masters of the RPS collection… If you are a photography fan, you cannot miss this show.’

Asked why there is an admission fee for access to images that form part of the National Photography Collection, a Science Museum spokeswoman told AP: ‘Income generated by the exhibitions programme is fed back into the running of Media Space for the project to be sustainable.

‘Although a large number of works on show in Media Space throughout the year are from the National Photography Collection, there are also loans on display.’

She added: ‘The preparation of a major exhibition involves shipping, insurance, research, conservation and installation costs.’

The museum offers £5 concessions for children aged 12-16 years, students, the unemployed, and disabled people, as well as 50% discounts for seniors on Mondays and Tuesdays after 3pm, and family tickets.

‘The Virgin Media Studio in Media Space is a free offer, changing throughout the year, and representing different aspects of photography and the National Photography Collection,’ added the spokeswoman.

RPS director general Michael Pritchard described the £8 fee as ‘modest’ compared to many other one-off exhibitions, and given that it allows people to see images by some of the world’s greatest photographers, normally confined to Bradford.

‘Most museums and galleries make a charge for temporary exhibitions that cost a great deal to organise and prepare,’ he told AP, adding: ‘The RPS Collection is also available for anyone to see in the National Media Museum’s Insight research centre by appointment, without charge.

‘Additionally, the museum’s current digitisation project is making images from the Collection available for anyone to see online.’

AP understands that the RPS has no control over the Science Museum admission price.

The RPS Collection contains more than 250,000 images, 8,000 pieces of photographic equipment and 31,000 books, periodicals and documents.

Commenting on the launch of the exhibition, the Science Museum said: ‘From serene landscapes to exquisite nudes, this new exhibition brings together over 200 extraordinary highlights from the collection of the world’s oldest surviving photographic society, by some of the greatest names in photography.’

Afghan Girl, Pakistan, 1984 ∏ Steve McCurry.web

Photo: © Steve McCurry

2003-5001/2/24130

Larry Burrows on assignment in Vietnam [Photo: © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL]

The RPS Collection was moved to the NMM in Bradford, from the RPS’s base in Bath, in 2003. The NMM was then known as the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

Support from the makers of the James Bond films played a vital role in the funding of Media Space.

A dinner jacket worn by Daniel Craig in the James Bond film, Skyfall, raised £47,000 for the project, for example.

A major donor was the Dana and Albert R Broccoli Foundation, set up by the family of the late Bond producer ‘Cubby’.’

Bond film co-producer Michael G Wilson, a former chairman of the National Media Museum, donated photos from his own collection to a fund-raising auction.

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection opens from today, until 1 March 2015, at Media Space, the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.

  • worth going just to see the Afghan girl and they have a great victorian shot of a hippo lying in the sun.