On display through 19 February 2023, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, presents An Alternative History of Photography: Works from the Solander Collection, a bold new perspective on the history of photography. Curated by Phillip Prodger, co-founder of The Solander Collection, the exhibition includes over 130 works that invite the viewer to look again at well-known works and new discoveries by major artists, alongside forgotten greats, regional champions and unknown artists. The Solander Collection, which debuted in August 2021, is “dedicated to the enjoyment and understanding of photographic art in all its forms, and has a special emphasis on international traditions, under-represented and forgotten artists, ethnic diversity, and women. The aim of the collection is to broaden the understanding of photography as inclusive and democratic.”

Ram Chand, Portrait of a Couple, 1970s, hand-colored gelatin silver print
© Ram Chand Courtesy Christophe Prebois

As it is conventionally told, the history of photography is a chain of relationships connecting one great maker to the next. From its invention in the UK and Europe, the real history is much more complicated: it is a vast web of interconnected stories stretching from East Asia to West Africa, and from New Zealand to Uzbekistan, and a complex interplay of fine art, scientific, anthropological, documentary and amateur traditions. Drawn from the Solander Collection, An Alternative History of Photography presents famous works and major artists seen with fresh eyes, whilst giving unknown pictures and newer discoveries the platform they deserve.

Adrien Tournachon, Mariahof Bull, 1856, salt print

Featuring unexpected images by legendary figures including Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Man Ray, and Edward Weston, the exhibition positions these alongside those of Helen Stuart and John Lindt, early, self-trained practitioner Lady Augusta Mostyn, and African studio photographers Sanlé Sory, Michel Kameni, and Malick Sidibé.

Iwao Yamawaki, Two Women, 1930–32, gelatin silver print © Estate of Iwao Yamawaki, Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
Lee Lim, Burden of Livelihood, ca.1955, gelatin silver print © Lim’s Family

The exhibition also contains many rarities and ‘firsts’, spanning photography’s early decades, with linchpin works by Sir John Herschel, William Henry Fox Talbot, Hippolyte Bayard, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Highlights also include a stunning photographic ‘altarpiece’ by Austrian performance artist Valie Export, shown alongside an extraordinary hand-coloured assisted self-portrait by the Countess of Castiglione. The American West is seen through the eyes of indigenous artist Richard Throssel. Major early works in Australian photography are shown alongside vintage examples from Chile, China, India, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Russia and others.

Unknown, possibly Ernesto Bavastro, Kingston, Jamaica, 1870s–80s, albumen print
Helen Stuart, Portrait of a Maori Woman, 1885, hand-colored gelatin silver print

Contemporary in outlook and visually captivating, An Alternative History of Photography: Works from the Solander Collection is essential for those seeking an introduction to the field, as well as anyone looking for new ways of reconsidering the traditions and reimagining the expected trajectories of photography.

Eadweard Muybridge, Fencing, 1887, collotype
Emilio Amero, A Bride Dances, ca. 1937, gelatin silver print © Estate of the Artist

An Alternative History of Photography: Works from the Solander Collection is curated by Philip Prodger and organised by Curatorial Exhibitions in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery. The exhibition is also accompanied by a major new book published by Prestel, which can be found here.

Malick Sidibé, Untitled (Two Men), 1974, gelatin silver print © Malick Sidibé, Courtesy Gallery FIFTY ONE
Valie Export, Expectation, 1976, unique photomontage © VALIE EXPORT 2022

All images courtesy of Solander Collection/The Photographers’ Gallery, London