Director of the Japan Camera Museum, Hiroshi Yano, (left) and Yasuhito Kobayashi, Director-General of Kobayashi Yas Photographic Collection (right) unveil Talbot's camera at the opening of the exhibition Credit: DC Watch

One of the first cameras to make a permanent photographic image has left the UK for the first time to be part of an exhibition hosted by the Japan Camera Museum in Tokyo. The so-called Mousetrap camera, used by William Henry Fox Talbot in his early experiments in creating the negative process in the 1830s, is the center-piece of an exhibition entitled Kingdom of Elegance, Mahogany and Brass which shows off early cameras from the UK’s photographic industry. Sponsored by The British Embassy, the exhibition displays cameras owned by the Royal Photographic Society, the National Media Museum of the UK and a private collector called Kobayashi Yas.

Amoung the cameras in the show are the 1924 Hill Sky Camera, the first fisheye camera, a Houghton Butcher camera from 1907 designed into a lady’s handbag, a Reid 1 1959 camera based on the Leica 111b, as well as stereo cameras from 1905 and a panoramic camera from 1913. Also on display is one of the world’s first twin-lens reflex cameras, the Marion & Co Academy No1.

Credit: DC Watch Credit: DC Watch

A report on the press preview by Japanese website Digital Camera Watch remarks on the fine woodwork of the cameras and compares them to pieces of furniture. The reporter is also amazed that the screw heads in the body of JH Darumeya’s stereo camera from 1860 are all perfectly aligned. It is perhaps because of such attention to detail that the UK has only historic cameras to show, and no current camera manufacturing.

The Mousetrap camera on display in the exhibition. Credit: DC Watch A different Mousetrap camera held in the archive of National Media Museum. Credit: National Media Museum

Fox Talbot invented his little cameras after being frustrated at his inability to draw and a desire to ‘fix upon the paper’ the images made by the camera obscuras commonly used by artists to create outline drawings. He worked on creating light sensitive paper, and realized eventually that to increase the amount of light falling on his slow paper he needed a small camera with a large aperture. Thus he built a series of 2-3in boxes with lenses made from telescope eyepieces and used them for his experiments. He also commissioned a local carpenter to build some for him, which show a much greater degree of craftsmanship. The 1835 he succeeded in creating the first permanent paper negative, which is still visible today, and housed in the archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. It was Talbot’s wife who gave them the name Mousetrap cameras, as they were small boxes and Talbot scattered them around the house.

It isn’t clear which of the several Mousetrap cameras is on display, but from the picture on the DC Watch website it looks a more sophisticated model and one probably made professionally. The camera is part of the Royal Photographic Society Collection, and is kept by the National Media Museum as part of its enormous camera archive.

The exhibition runs until Sunday 20th December at the Japan Camera Museum in Tokyo. For more information see the museum’s website, and to read more about the Mousetrap camera see the National Media Museum pages.