A New Power: Photography in Britain 1800–1850

About the exhibition

The announcement of photography’s invention in January 1839, first in Paris and then in London, introduced a ‘new power’ into British life. This new power – derived from photography’s capacity to automatically capture the images created in a camera – was soon being used for every conceivable purpose.

A New Power: Photography in Britain 1800–1850 explores the early history of photography, starting with the invention of the medium and the earliest dissemination of photographic images in Britain and ending with the famous Great Exhibition of 1851. It examines the broad range of uses that photography would quickly come to fill, from documenting the invention of celebrity to the very first ‘travel photography’ and how this helped to shore up colonial sensibilities.

By showing how photography intersected with all aspects of a nascent modernity, A New Power reveals photography’s crucial role in making Britain the society it is today.


Image credit: 'Portrait of a man (resembling Jabez Hogg) operating a daguerrotype camera, c.1845', artist unknown, oil on canvas in wood frame.

Exhibition tours

A New Power exhibition tours are available on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 2.30 – 3.15pm on the following dates:

12 April, 13 April, 19 April, 20 April, 26 April, 27 April, 3 May, 4 May.

These free gallery tours are led by our dedicated volunteer team. The tours are open to all, but places are limited. Please meet by the entrance doors to ‘A New Power’ at the rear of Blackwell Hall.

You do not need to book a tour to visit the exhibition.

Book now



This exhibition is curated by Geoffrey Batchen, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford and a specialist in the history of photography.

 Audio excerpts

Using dramatised readings of contemporary voices, discover the excitement and impact of photography from those who encountered its beginnings.

Listen in the gallery using the QR codes, or at home.


Events related to this exhibition

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In the shop

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Inventing Photography: William Henry Fox Talbot in the Bodleian Library
Geoffrey Batchen

The Forms of Nameless Things: Experimental Photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot
Geoffrey Batchen

Cyanotype Kit

The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Photography
Nathalie Herschdorfer