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Historic Photographs

Making the Modern World

Photography, itself a product of a technical age, was seen as a medium ideally suited to record a period of material expansion and massive industrialisation. The nineteenth-century revolution in transport saw the creation of a worldwide network of roads, railways, canals and shipping and all were subject to intense scrutiny by the camera. An early and accomplished example of the use of photography to record the progress of construction projects is to be seen in Philip Delamotte's record of the construction of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham from 1853-55; but it was in France in particular that photography was used most extensively by the civil engineer and collections of prints were made recording the achievements of the Public Works Department in harbour construction, public architecture and communications. Indeed, for a number of studios, such as that of Hippolyte Collard, this branch of work became a speciality. Such photographs served not only as prosaic progress records, but expressed a potent visual declaration of national pride in material progress.

Philip Henry Delamotte , c.1853

the open colonnade of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, Enlarged image
the open colonnade of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham,
Tab.442.a.5
Philip Henry Delamotte, the open colonnade of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, garden front, c. 1853
Albumen print

After the closure of the 1851 Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace which had housed it was dismantled and transferred to Sydenham in South London. Philip Henry Delamotte's photographic record of its reconstruction on the new site is an early example of the use of photography to create a detailed record of the progress of a civil engineering project. This elegant architectural vista is one of a hundred photographs by Delamotte recording the construction of the Crystal Palace and published as Photographic Views of the progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham (London, 1855). Opened by Queen Victoria in 1854, the building survived until 1936, when it was destroyed by fire.

Justin Kozlowski , c.1860

Dredgers at work in the Suez Canal Enlarged image
Dredgers at work in the Suez Canal
Maps 24.d.30.(19.)
Justin Kozlowski, Dredgers at work in the Suez Canal, 1860s
Albumen print

Little is known of the career of Justin Kozlowski, apart from the fact that he had originally come to France as a Polish refugee in the 1830s. This photograph, from an album of views recording construction work on the Suez Canal, appears to be his only known photographic work and documents the building of the canal from its early stages up to the opening ceremony on 18 November 1869.

Hippolyte Auguste Collard, c.1864

Perspective du passage des piétons sous la Viaduc, Pont-du-Jour, Paris Enlarged image
Perspective du passage des piétons sous la Viaduc, Pont-du-Jour, Paris
Maps 148.d.15 (15)
Hippolyte Auguste Collard, Perspective du passage des piétons sous la Viaduc, Pont-du-Jour, Paris, c. 1864
Albumen print

The physical transformation of Paris in the middle years of the nineteenth century was a major stimulus for photographers, both in recording the old before it was destroyed and in documenting the progress of great new projects. A number of photographers at this period specialised in such work, among them Hippolyte Collard, who styled himself 'Photographer of Bridges and Highways.' Collard was officially employed to photograph the progress of a number of major construction projects in Paris between 1857 and 1870, among them this series of views showing the building of the road and rail bridge across the Seine at Point-du-Jour (now Pont de Garigliano) between 1863 and 1866.

Unknown Photographer, 1870

Building the Mont Cenis Tunnel Enlarged image
Building the Mont Cenis Tunnel
Add. MS 59505 f.75
Unknown photographer, Building the Mont Cenis Tunnel, 1870
Albumen print

The eight-mile long Mont Cenis Tunnel (also known as the Frejus Tunnel) connects the towns of Mondane in France and Bardonecchia in Italy. Completed in 1871, it was the first rock tunnel of its sort and pioneered several new engineering techniques. This view, showing one of the boring machines known as 'perforatrices', was clearly taken outside the tunnel rather than at the rock face: it has been heavily retouched to obscure the background and to suggest that it was taken inside the tunnel. The photograph formed the basis for a number of reproductions in contemporary newspapers.

Unknown Photographer , 1898

Construction work on the Central Line of the London Underground Enlarged image
Construction work on the Central Line of the London Underground
Photo 1132/1 (7)
Unknown photographer, Construction work on the Central Line of the London Underground, 1898
Gelatin silver print

Increasing congestion in Central London in the mid-nineteenth century led to the creation of the world's first underground system. The Metropolitan Line, running from Paddington to Farringdon, was opened in 1863 and the following decades saw a swift development of the network. In 1891 the Central London Railway was formed to build a line connecting the City to the growing western suburbs of London. The line connecting Shepherd's Bush to Bank was opened in 1900 and proved an immediate success. This is one of a rare series of views showing work in progress on the tunnel in 1898.

D.S. George, c.1900

Construction of the Aswan Dam Enlarged image
Construction of the Aswan Dam
Photo 430/64 (9)
D. S. George, Construction of the Aswan Dam: masonry and sluices in the western channel, c. 1900.
Platinum print

Built between 1899 and 1902, the Aswan Dam was an attempt to harness and regulate the water supply of the Nile for agricultural production and to generate hydro-electric power for industrial development. Despite the ambitiousness of the project, in practice the dam was unable to supply an adequate storage reservoir and was further heightened in 1907-12 and 1929-34. Finally the 'high' dam was constructed in the 1960s. Little is known about D. S. George, a local commercial photographer, although he appears to have been commissioned to document the construction of the original dam from its earliest stages through to completion.

Further pages from the project:

Photographic Processes Photographic Processes
The world in focus The World in Focus
Exploration and Archaeology Exploration and Archaeology
The image of war The Image of War
Making the modern world Making the Modern World
In the public eye In the Public Eye

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Discover more:
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Photographic Processes
The World in Focus
Exploration and Archaeology
The Image of War
Making of the Modern World
In the Public Eye


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