In 1834, William Henry Fox Talbot developed a method of fixing and developing images with light and chemistry on paper, sparking the start of contemporary image-making. “One advantage of the discovery of the Photographic Art will be, that it will enable us to introduce into our pictures a multitude of minute details which add to the truth and reality of the representation,” reflected the British scientist. Twenty years later, the Royal Photography Society hosted the first International Photography Exhibition. The show has become the world’s longest running show, with artists such as Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Paul Strand (1890-1976) sharing innovative projects.
This year is no different, as 60 global practitioners experiment with analogue and digital techniques to offer new perspectives on the topics that are shaping modern-day life. Cyanotypes, collage and prints unpick modern life from diverse perspectives, examining timely themes of cultural heritage, mental health and the environment. Here are four stand-out images from the 164th edition.
Frederic Aranda | Vogue House
Vogue House features LGBTQ+ people from across the world. A uniform of pastel clothing unites each the group, who strike bold, individual poses in a regal family portrait set in Paris. For Aranda “certain things about us only become clear once we are place in a group dynamic; there are lots of things that portraits of individuals cannot convey.” The vibrant, performative shot was also nominated for the Taylor Wessing Photo Prize in 2022 and has since been longlisted for the 2023 Aesthetica Art Prize.
Siqi Li | The Death of a Beautiful Thing
Between 1980 and 2015, China’s one-child policy restricted the size of families in order to control population figures. Siqi Li’s Empty Nest series negotiates the lasting impact of this legislation, examining themes of connection and intimacy. The artist, who is based between Beijing and London, uses soft lighting to depict people in domestic settings, as well as objects that represent loss. In The Death of a Beautiful Thing, which won RPS‘ Under 30s Award, hands join to cup a butterfly – a symbol of rebirth.
Jenny Matthews | Dedicated to Teachers, Students, Pupils
Over 40 years, Jenny Matthews has developed a multidisciplinary practice, combining photography and embroidery to comment on conflict. According to Unicef, 129 million girls across the world miss out on attending school. Dedicated to Teachers, Students, Pupils reflects on this statistic, highlighting the power structures, ideologies and events that prevent the education of women. In the layered portrait, two figures look down at a crinkled piece of paper, their faces obscured by bright thread flowers.
Natcha Wongchanglaw | Less Question More Fun
Thailand-born, US-based Natcha Wongchanglaw is the recipient of this year’s IPE Award. Her winning series, Couchsurfing Hosts, focuses on residents in New York who open their houses up to strangers, broadening their horizons by learning more about different cultures during the process. The artist explains: “As I work on this project, I am thinking about how, in a world where social media has a large influence on our lives, this network helps bring people from all over the world closer together.”
RPS Gallery | Until 7 May
Words: Saffron Ward
1. Michelle Sank, Belinda, from the series Drag Daughters.
2. Frederic Aranda, Vogue House.
3. Siqi Li, The Death of a Beautiful Thing.
4. Jenny Matthews, Dedicated to Teachers, Students, Pupils.
5. Natcha Wongchanglaw, Less Question More Fun.