Newly digitised prints of 1921 Everest expedition with George Mallory unveiled

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‘Camp at 20,000 feet – the last day.’
Photographer: George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924)
MEE21/0715, Glass Plate Negative

Stunning platinum prints, the first to be created from recently digitised silver nitrate negatives, give captivating insights in to the first British reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1921, and are on show at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) this autumn.

Taken by George Mallory and other members of the first British reconnaissance expedition to Everest – which included Charles Howard-Bury, Alexander Wollaston and Edward Oliver Wheeler with Abdul Jalil Khan – the photographs are among the first to document the dramatic landscapes and local people of the Himalayas.

 

‘Cairns at a rest stop on the way up to the Kharta Glacier.'
Photographer: George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924)
MEE21/084, Celluloid Negative

 

The exhibition will also include items from the Society’s unrivalled Collections, including one of the first cameras to capture photographs at such high altitudes.

While the images were intended to complement the expedition’s purpose of carrying out new and more detailed survey work of the region, they include images of the Sherpas who helped the team ascend the mountain. The prints also showcase some of the finest panoramas of any high mountain region ever taken.

Attempts to reach the summit of Everest were inspired by British Army Captain John Noel, who had made it to within 40 miles of the mountain in 1913. While Noel was unable to participate in the 1921 expedition, he advised what photography should take place.

Top: '[Team member in foreground with Mount Everest, Kangshung Face and Lhotse from the Karta Glacier].'
Photographer: Edward Oliver Wheeler (1890-1962)
EE21/0482, Glass Plate Negative

 

Bottom: ‘Cho Uyo from Dirty Glacier Summit on east slope Kyetrak Glacier opposite Cho Rabsang.’
Photographer: Edward Oliver Wheeler (1890-1962)
MEE21/0411, Glass Plate Negative

 

The Society worked with the Salto Ulbeek studio in Belgium to carry out the painstaking digitisation work needed to produce the platinum prints. Compared to silver prints, where the image is floating in a gelatine layer at the top of the paper, platinum prints have an expanded tonal range, three- dimensionality and a painterly quality.

Alasdair MacLeod, the Society’s Head of Enterprise and Resources, said:

 

“The digitisation work carried out by Georges Charlier at Salto Ulbeek has opened up these exceptional photographs, providing greater clarity and breathtaking detail. We are excited to be showing these remarkable new prints for the first time at the Society this autumn.”

‘The Abbot of Shekar Chote.’
Photographer: Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury (1881-1963)
MEE21/0327, Celluloid Negative

 

Everest – A reconnaissance runs from Monday 29 October to Tuesday 27 November in the Society’s Pavilion. The exhibition is free and open to everyone. Visit www.rgs.org/whatson.

Limited edition prints are available to buy from the Society’s online print store at rgsprintstore.com.

All photos © RGS-IBG/Salto-Ulbeek.