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Exhibition highlights Birmingham's role in photography's early years

Virtual reality art project Thresholds will take visitors back over 170 years to the dawn of photography

Sketch of how King Edward's School looked in New Street in the 19th century
Sketch of how King Edward's School looked in New Street in the 19th century

A new exhibition is taking place in Birmingham next summer which aims to shed light on the important role the city played in the early years of the history of photography.

Thresholds, a virtual reality art project by artist Mat Collishaw and photographic historian Pete James, will take audiences back over 170 years to the dawn of the photographic era.

Headsets will allow visitors to walk around a recreation of 'The Model Room', an exhibition of manufactures, inventions, models and philosophical instruments staged at King Edward's School, New Street, in August 1839.

This important exhibition, which included 93 photogenic drawings by William Henry Fox Talbot, was one of the first major public exhibitions of photography in the UK.

The exhibition will include what are thought to be the two earliest surviving images made in Birmingham, two views of New Street made from King Edward's School around 1842 - and previously unseen material from King Edward's School's archives.

Supported by the Colmore Business District BID and partners including King Edward's School and the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, the exhibition will reveal how Birmingham was at the forefront of developments in the technology that revolutionized the way we see, record, represent and understand the visible and invisible world.

Thresholds is also now the subject of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

It will be premiered at Photo London, the annual international photo fair in April, and then shown at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from June to September.

There will also be a series of related events and activities before going to the National Media Museum in Bradford and Laycock Abbey, Talbot's former home which is now a National Trust property.

Pete James, former curator of photographs at the Library of Birmingham and now a fellow at Birmingham Open Media, said: "This challenging, exciting and innovative project will promote Birmingham's pioneering achievements in the history of photography to local, national and international audiences."

Colmore BID director Mike Best added: "Thresholds is a very different type of photography project which will engage and inspire audiences of all ages, and provide a unique way to learn about the significant role Birmingham played at the very dawn of photography."

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