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The 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition mapped approach routes to the mountain and climbed to 23,000 feet, laying plans for future attempts and providing some of the first – and finest – close-range images of Everest.

Photography has always been an important component of Mount Everest expeditions. From the first expedition onwards, cameras and the paraphernalia required were part of the equipment factored into the logistics of climbing the mountain. For the porters it was certainly a heavy load. From cameras and lenses to glass plate negatives, tripods and chemicals, the early expeditions took all that was needed both to expose and to develop pictures on the mountain.

The 1921 photographs were taken by a disparate group of men, from scientists to climbers, doctors of medicine to surveyors and there are fascinating differences in how each saw and recorded their time on the mountain. These early photographs are part of the Society’s wider collection of over 20,000 Everest images, documenting the expeditions carried out under the auspices of the Mount Everest Committee.

They are also a critically important source of historical documentation for the Tibetan and Nepali peoples – the Everest archive at the Society holds some of the first photographs of people in the region – as well as being a valuable tool for wider research.

 

Everest - A Reconnaissance

 

About the platinum prints

These limited edition prints are the first in this format to be created from negatives in the Society's Everest image collection, including the newly digitised fragile silver nitrate negatives, housed for the Society by the British Film Institute, as well as a selection of celluloid and glass plate negatives preserved at the Society.

The Society worked with the Salto Ulbeek Studio in Belgium, the team responsible for the Society’s Frank Hurley Endurance platinum prints, to carry out painstaking digitisation work and to then create these exceptional new prints in one of the oldest, rarest and most stable of all black and white photographic printing processes.

A selection of the most historically and aesthetically significant of these negatives have been scanned at an extremely high resolution, allowing for a better analysis of their material quality and state of preservation. The high resolution scans were then digitally cleaned and restored; a painstaking process that requires up to one day of work per photograph.

Once restored to the original condition, some of the negatives were combined into panoramas as originally intended, and all of the photographs were printed through the platinum-palladium printing process, using special techniques developed by Salto Ulbeek.

For more information about the platinum prints or to make a private appointment to view the prints, please email images@rgs.org

Everest Platinum Print brochure

 

Salto Ulbeek

The chemical nature of photographic negatives makes them a particularly fragile form of cultural heritage. Many of the original glass and celluloid negatives stored in archives have already suffered from the passage of time, poor processing, or mishandling. All negatives, regardless of their current condition, will fade and disappear with time.

The mission of Salto Ulbeek Publishers is to secure and advance the preservation, interpretation and appreciation of key photographic archives before they fade. This is achieved through longstanding research and a continually improved understanding of historical and contemporary photographic techniques that range from large-format analogue and high-resolution digital image capture, to platinum-palladium printing. This knowhow is supplemented by the personal photographic experience of each member of the Salto Ulbeek team, and is enhanced by a meticulous approach to the production of limited edition books and portfolios.

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Note about captions

Within the Society’s Collections there are some historical images (and image titles or captions) which are recognised as containing unacceptable forms of language, or present image content that is considered inappropriate. In such cases, as part of its Collections policy, the Society maintains access to those images and descriptors as a source of context and information for researchers, recognising that the historical language used or image subjects in themselves do not reflect the Society’s contemporary position as an organisation wholly committed to principles of equality and diversity.