Photojournalist David White set out to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Howlett. You may not recognise his name, but you will have seen at least one of his photographs, of the legendary engineer isambard Kingdom Bruenel, in dusty coat and top hat, cigar between his lips, posed in front of massive chains, ever inch the great Victorian pioneer and engineer.
Howlett was dead within a couple of years of taking that photograph at the age of only 27 (the toxic chemicals in the photography process most likely killed him), but he created one of the iconic images of the 19th century. All the more remarkable, as White points out, because photography, itself a 19th century creation of that great age of innovation and exploration, was barely twenty years old when he fashioned this image, not content to do a simple portrait but to frame, pose and light a scene which capture the essence of the man so well. White had a re-created camera similar to the one Howlett would have had in the 1850s and took it around Britain to photograph some of Brunel’s surviving structures in as close a manner as would have been available to Howlett (although wisely he used non toxic chemicals); the BBC has an audio visual slideshow of the result which is both asethetically pleasing and historically fascinating, drawing on the early days of photography and that period when there seemed a great romance about the new world engineers and inventors were shaping in our little islands.