RPS Science Photographer of the Year

28 October 2019

Region: Headquarters

I was very excited when I heard that the RPS Science Photographer of the Year 2019 was to be hosted at the Science Museum; such an appropriate venue given that the Society and the Museum both have long, rich heritages. I hadn’t realised that our relationship was forged as far back as 1854, when our first public photography exhibition was shown at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A, but then home to the science collections as well), so there was a tangible feeling that we were coming home.

The exhibition works on so many different levels. First impressions are aesthetically appealing, and it has the feel of a really contemporary art show. I immediately recognised the inimitable style of Kym Cox, with her latest bubble images. I first encountered Kym’s work a few years ago, and was bowled over by what she could create from the humble washing-up liquid; since then, her practice has developed in a way that truly unifies the art, science and philosophy of bubbles.

On the way into the museum, I met some charming Canadians, who had flown in from Montreal, just for the show. I was delighted to learn that one of them was Richard Germain, who brings a whole new meaning to ‘experimental photography’. His safety-pin image had piqued my interest when I first saw it on the RPS website, and so I was eager to understand how he had created it. Richard’s explanation epitomises science photography in so far as the pressing of the shutter is the last – and very small – step in a complex process. In Richard’s case, this involved building a Heath-Robinson contraption held together with bulldog clips, in which a high voltage is passed through water, around the safety pin, to create the corona. Probably not one to try at home unless you know what you’re doing!

Some of the most visually pleasing work is ironically some of the most disconcerting. At first glance, these images seem to exemplify fine art, but closer inspection shows that such beauty is derived from medical complaints, including a detached retina, gallstones and gleaming pus from an allergic reaction to a black henna tattoo…

There’s a good reason that the Science Museum added the caveat that “Visitors may find some of the images in the Human World and Natural World sections of the exhibition to be disturbing or upsetting.” Despite the slight discomfort, I still thoroughly enjoyed the whole exhibition; although, thanks to Juliet Evans’ mould photography, it will be a very long time before I eat raspberries again.

Image shows Black Henna Allergy by Nicola Kelley-Carrick

Exhibition runs until 5th January
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD
Free admission (booking recommended); open daily 10:00 – 18:00.


Read more of Del's blogs here.