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A new exhibition – Everest through the lens – opens today, Wednesday 5 October, at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) to mark the centenary of the first European expeditions to Mount Everest. Open to visitors until 20 January next year, the exhibition explores how the films of Captain John Noel helped create the popular image of Everest in the 1920s and reveals some of the lesser-known elements of the expeditions including the role of the Indigenous and regional labour forces who supported the teams.

The Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club, London, were instrumental in the planning and execution of the first European-organised expeditions to Everest, having formed the Mount Everest Committee in 1919, which combined the geographical, cartographic and scientific interests of the Society with the mountaineering expertise and technical knowledge of the Alpine Club.

Following the success of the 1921 Reconnaissance Expedition, which gathered and shared vital geographical information, the Mount Everest Committee sought to further survey, map and photograph the landscape and document the people of the Himalayas. This led to the involvement of the photographer and filmmaker, Captain John Noel, who was aware of the commercial opportunities available to present the first film footage of the people and landscapes of the region – and the attempt to summit the mountain – to public audiences in the West.

At the heart of the Society’s new exhibition are the visually stunning films that Noel produced of the 1922 and 1924 expeditions. The exhibition goes behind the scenes of Climbing Mount Everest (1922) and The Epic of Everest (1924) to unpick the uncomfortable and complex social, racial and geopolitical dynamics that shaped the expeditions – from their beginning to enduring legacy.

The exhibition also includes a large number of photographs, film stills and manuscripts from the unique Mount Everest Collection and Noel Collection which are being exhibited for the first time. Other items never previously shown on public display include a vivid blue programme from the cinematic release of Climbing Mount Everest, a postcard sent from Everest Base Camp to promote The Epic of Everest, and a promotional banner poster that advertises the 1924 film as ‘a wonder film of adventure on the roof of the world’.

Everest through the lens, produced with global experience design agency, Event, is on display in the Society’s Pavilion until 20 January 2023. It is free and open Monday to Saturday, 10.00am to 5.30pm (it is closed over the Christmas period). Climbing Mount Everest (1922) and the BFI National Archive restoration of The Epic of Everest (1924) can be watched on BFI Player which also hosts the Society’s archive film collection online.

The exhibition is accompanied by a season of events which draw upon and further develop the ideas explored in the exhibition.




Notes to editor

  • For further media enquiries please contact the Society’s Press Officer, Lucy Preston, on +44 (0)77 1478 3126 or  

  • Exhibition images and clips from Captain John Noel’s films can be downloaded from here.

  • The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830, our Royal Charter of 1859 is for 'the advancement of geographical science'. Today, we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’.

  • Event is a global experience design agency with headquarters in London and Dublin. Since 1986, they have designed large-scale exhibitions, spaces and experiences for world-class institutions, museums and organisations across the globe. From storyboarding user journeys to designing and constructing the physical space, their experienced in-house team and wider network of experts have helped take projects from conceptualisation and funding application, through to design and realisation, with award-winning results. They pride themselves on consistent ingenuity in design and storytelling and their expertise in build and project management. Museums designed by Event have, uniquely, won the European Museum of the Year Award four times - In Flanders Field (Ypres), Chester Beatty Library (Dublin), The Riverside Museum of Transport (Glasgow), and POLIN: Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (Warsaw). Other recent projects include the H.C. Andersen’s House in Denmark, voted one of Time Out's 'Best Things to Do in the World’. In 2021, they became a member of the Museum Studio group.

  • Eithne Owens, Creative Director of Event, who designed the exhibition, said: “The Epic of Everest continues to inspire, 100 years later. Our team was intrigued by Noel’s ingenuity - including setting up a mobile darkroom - and the feat of documenting the expeditions. His material celebrates the expeditions, but also lets us take a look behind the scenes - at the scores of local people who made the climbs possible. We also wanted to investigate what was left out of Noel's narrative, and how that has defined public perceptions of the Everest expeditions, even to this day.”

  • The BFI is a cultural charity, a National Lottery distributor, and the UK’s lead organisation for film and the moving image. Their mission is to support creativity and actively seek out the next generation of UK storytellers; to grow and care for the BFI National Archive, the world’s largest film and television archive; to offer the widest range of UK and international moving image culture through their programmes and festivals - delivered online and in venue; to use their knowledge to educate and deepen public appreciation and understanding, and to work with Government and industry to ensure the continued growth of the UK’s screen industries Founded in 1933, the BFI is a registered charity governed by Royal Charter. The BFI Board of Governors is chaired by Tim Richards.