Royal Society Admissions Day: photographing new Fellows

On 16 July the Royal Society’s Admissions Day took place. This is one of the major annual events in the Society’s calendar when new Fellows of the Royal Society (FRS) are formally admitted during a ceremony. Fellows are elected through a peer review process which culminates in a vote by existing Fellows. The main criterion for election is scientific excellence.

One aspect of this quite hectic but exciting day is the task of capturing formal individual photographs of each Fellow at this important point of their professional career. Each year the photos are taken in the Royal Society library against a backdrop of past Royal Society journals.

Portrait photograph of Victoria Michelle Kaspi FRS (elected 2010)

Victoria Michelle Kaspi FRS (elected 2010)

This year, 44 new Fellows, 8 Foreign Members and 1 Honorary Fellow were elected so it was quite a challenge to photograph a total of 53 Fellows in one hour; at just over 1 minute per Fellow it would test the skills of any photographer but was handled very well by Richard Valencia who managed to pose the Fellows in record time. Firstly a photo is taken of each individual holding a name card for identification purposes only (cue many jokes along the lines of ‘having my mug shot taken’!) followed by two official photographs. From these, two sets of prints are created, one copy to be sent to the Fellow and the other to be added to the Royal Society’s archives.

The Royal Society’s collection of photographs of scientists dates back to the 19th century when the Royal Society acquired a collection of 700 photographic portraits taken by Henry Maull (1829-1914) and partners. Maull specialised in photographing public figures often posing them with props associated with their profession. The Society also holds a large collection of cartes-de-visite of high profile scientists. Small calling card sized portraits, cartes-de-visite became popular in the 1860s; mass produced and affordable, they were widely collected and traded amongst friends.

Over the years this dynamic archive of photographic portraiture has grown to become a valuable visual record of some of the world’s most eminent scientists, both past and present.

Portrait photograph of Michael Faraday FRS (elected 1824)

Michael Faraday FRS (elected 1824)

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