When I read about this exhibition, I knew I wanted to check it out. Mat Collishaw: Thresholds is a unique recreation of William Henry Fox Talbot’s first exhibition of photographs in Birmingham in 1839. But instead of plonking down the original photos and inviting audiences to view them again, the exhibition is more daring: it uses virtual reality technology to take you back to the original exhibition.
The actual room you enter, in a corner of the New Wing at Somerset House, is stark white and filled with plain white cases. When you put on the special backpack, with glasses and headphones, however, the space is transformed. Around you is a recreation of the original exhibition space. In front of you, cases showcase the impressive photographs that were originally displayed, and you can pick them up to take a closer look. Mice run along the floor, spiders creep over the paintings, and a fire burns in the corner. Outside, you can see guards policing the streets, and towards the end of the experience you can even see and hear the Chartist protesters who rioted in 1839 on the streets of Birmingham.
The actual experience lasts six minutes, though you need to allow time for the introduction and to get your equipment set up. Though short, it’s unforgettable, and its use of very modern technology reminds you of how cutting-edge the science of photography would have seemed to exhibition attendees in the mid-nineteenth century. The exhibition isn’t on for very long, but I’d urge you to catch it before 11 June.