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Somerset House's VR Photography Exhibit Lets Visitors Time Travel to 1839

Artist Mat Collishaw is recreating one of the world's very first photography exhibits. 2/16/2017 10:45 AM Eastern

Artist Mat Collishaw is recreating one of the world's very first photography exhibits allowing visitors to step back in time to 1839 thanks to virtual reality. London's Somerset House will host Thresholds from May 18th through June 11th, 2017.

In 1839, British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot first presented his photographic prints to the public at the King Edward's School in Birmingham. Thresholds will be a fully immersive portal to the past; visitors can walk freely throughout a digitally reconstructed room, and will be able to touch the bespoke vitrines, fixtures and moldings; even the heat from a coal fire will be recreated. Infrared sensors will track visitors’ movements, creating ghostly avatars that indicate their position and enhance the feeling of traveling through time. Collishaw has also created a soundscape to accompany the exhibition: the demonstrations of the Chartist protesters who rioted in 1839 on the streets of Birmingham, and who can be glimpsed through the digital windows.

Unfortunately, Fox Talbot’s original images have faded almost beyond recognition with several of the surviving photographs existing only in light-proof vaults. Thresholds not only restages an important historical exhibition but provides a way to view images that have since been lost to the public.   

“I have been looking to work with virtual reality for a number of years and I’m delighted that it has now become a feasible medium for me to use in an artwork," Collishaw tells It's Nice That. "VR’s ability to enable visitors to revisit the birth of photography – a medium that has come to saturate our lives – is uncanny and compelling. It’s also quite appropriate as VR is the total 360 immersion of the viewer within an image, and is itself one of the many innovations spawned by the invention of photography."

Read the full story here.

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