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Everest: A Reconnaissance

Part of a panorama showing Mount Everest and its northeast ridge, taken by EO Wheeler Part of a panorama showing Mount Everest and its northeast ridge, taken by EO Wheeler
27 Oct
A new exhibition of photographs from the 1921 Everest expedition will be on show in the Society’s Pavilion this autumn

The stunning platinum prints from the 1921 Everest expedition are the first to be created from recently digitised silver nitrate negatives stored in the Society’s collections. 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. Although they were originally intended to complement the expedition’s purpose of carrying out new and more detailed survey work of the region, the photographs also include images of the sherpas who helped the team ascend the mountain, as well as showing life in camp, and some of the finest panoramas of any high mountain region ever taken.

S0020104 Expedition members Nov 18Members of the 1921 Everest Expedition at 17-300 foot camp

Attempts to reach the summit of Everest were inspired by John Noel, a British Army captain, who had made it to within 40 miles of the mountain in 1913. In a paper submitted to the Society in 1919 about his Tibetan expedition, Noel was among the first to suggest that Mount Everest should be climbed. Although he was unable to participate in the 1921 expedition due to military duties, Noel advised on the photography that should take place. Th e photos subsequently taken by Mallory and the rest of the 1921 expedition team went on to aid and inform plans for future attempts to climb the mountain in 1922 and 1924.

18 edit001 everest21 0150 0200 0523RGSA Tibetan woman spinning wool

We worked with the Salto Ulbeek studio in Belgium to carry out the painstaking digitisation work needed to produce the platinum prints that make up the exhibition. Compared to silver prints, where the image floats in a gelatin layer on top of the paper, platinum prints have an expanded tonal range, three dimensionality and a painterly quality. Alasdair MacLeod, head of enterprise and resources at the Society, said: ‘The digitisation work carried out by Georges Charlier at Salto Ulbeek has opened up these exceptional photographs, providing greater clarity and breath-taking detail. We are excited to be showing these remarkable new prints for the first time at the Society this autumn.’

S0020952 old scan of MEE21 0636The expedition's second advanced camp with Pumori in the background
• Everest – A Reconnaissance runs from Monday 29 October to Wednesday 12 December in the Society’s Pavilion. The exhibition is free and open to everyone. Limited edition prints are available to buy from the Society’s online print store: www.rgsprintstore.com. Visit our website for more information and to plan your visit: www.rgs.org/whatson

This was published in the November 2018  edition of Geographical magazine

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