Hurstville Museum and Gallery will soon host Capturing Nature, which showcases the scientific discoveries made by early Australian scientists between the 1850s and 1890s.
Drawn from the Australian Museum's extensive archival collection of over 15,000 plate glass negatives, the images are some of Australia's earliest natural history photographs.
Combining science and art, the images tell the story of pioneering research as well as the advent of photography in Australia, less than 20 years after the birth of photography in Europe.
The large images, period cameras, projection footage and other items included in the exhibition, bring to life subjects ranging from a large sunfish to a gorilla, and even the fragile bones of a flamingo. Taxidermist Henry Barnes and his son photographed most of the specimens in the display, along with the help of the Australian Museum's pioneering curator, Gerard Krefft.
The exhibition reveals the importance of early glass plate photography as a means of capturing history and science. Photography was an expensive and complicated process, and every photo was carefully planned. The animals and specimens were prepared, posed and positioned for the best natural light and least shadow.
Some of the earliest adopters of photography were scientists, as it was ideal for capturing the process of discovery and describing new species in Australia. The arrival of photography meant that scientists no longer needed to rely on illustrators and drawings, and the new form of mechanical documentation captured the rapid expansion of the museum's specimen collections in the 19th century.
Vanessa Finney, Curator of the exhibition at the Australian Museum, Archivist and Manager of Rare Books, noted that the photographs "disseminated to the world the image of Australia and its fauna at a time of great international enthusiasm for the fledgling colony's unusual plants and animals".
A touring exhibition created by the Australian Museum.
Event: Capturing Nature: Early photography at the Australian Museum 1857-1893
Date: October 31, 2020 - January 31, 2021
Cost: Free event
Location: Hurstville Museum and Gallery.