A Period Eye: Photography Then and Now

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

A Period Eye brings together historic photographs from the wonderful Eaton and Colman collections from the 1840s and 50s with new work by three leading contemporary photographers, Richard Billingham, Sarah Jones and Cornford and Cross.

It is a visual delight and history lesson in one. Thomas Damant Eaton (1800-1871) was president of Norwich Photographic Society and his collection, which includes a fine self-portrait, traces the development of this new art form.

Combined with examples from the Colman family collection, there are vivid glimpses of yesteryear Norfolk. George Fitt's A School Group of the Steps of Norwich Porch shows the innocent of childhood and arrogance of adolescence while the gory Sectioned Bladder with Stones graphically reveals work carried out at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The magical St Peter Mancroft by Eaton is the only example of a highly hand-coloured photograph while Norwich Roofscape, by an unknown photographer, is a mass of church towers, pitched roofs and the magnificent cathedral tower.

I was moved by Richard Billingham's up-lifting images. He studied as an artist and remains deeply influenced by painters such as Constable and Turner. It is evident to see in his huge landscapes of his chosen spot, the desolate Halvergate Marshes. Sarah Jones's portraiture is both historic and modern. A beautiful girl appears in three richly coloured images. Each image made me tick. I imagined why she was there. The Guestroom finds her draped across a twin bed. Every texture in the room comes alive - the candlewick bedspread, flock wallpaper and marble fireplace.

Cornford + Cross's A month in the Country chose to focus on four hired commercial stock photographs which they have hired for one month and will then whitewash over. Their aim is to bring to attention the ownership and control of photographs. I was fascinated by the Eaton and Colman collections and excited by Billingham's and Jones' powerful images but found myself left cold by this project. It had an effect as it was designed to do but as an end to the exhibition I felt sadly let down.

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