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Exhibitions of photography have always played an important role in Society activities. The first was opened on January 4th 1854 at the Society of British Artists in Pall Mall. On that day Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were shown round the exhibition by the President, Sir Charles Eastlake and the Secretary, Roger Fenton. This was the forerunner of the current International Print and International Slide exhibitions, shown for many years in the Guildhall in London and toured to other locations, some abroad. In addition to the International exhibitions, the special interest groups have mounted their own exhibitions in the Society’s houses.
Other exhibitions were hung in Russell Square, Princes Gate and South Audley Street, but it was the Octagon with no less than four galleries that gave the Society the opportunity to stage many important exhibitions.
The inaugural Octagon exhibition was ‘Many Happy Returns, A birthday tribute to the Queen Mother’, which also signaled the opening of the RPS National Centre of Photography. An exhibition drawn from the Collection, ‘Treasures of The Royal Photographic Society’ subsequently toured for many months. Exhibitions of work by David Hockney, Lord Snowdon, David Bailey, Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, Martin Parr and many others were a great attraction. The most successful exhibition in the Society’s history, measured by the 45,000 attendance, was ‘Light Dimensions,’ an exhibition of Holography from twelve countries, opened by Princess Margaret on June 21st 1983. Its showing was extended by six weeks and it was then transferred to the Science Museum in South Kensington.
The Royal Photographic Society has held an annual exhibition since 1853 which continues to the present day. De Montfort University and its Photographic History Research Centre have undertaken important research into the Society’s photographic exhibitions. Detailed information about the early Society exhibitions up to 1865 can be found here and for those the Society held between 1870 and 1915 the exhibition catalogues are fully searchable and available here.