21 Jul 2017

Birmingham Museums’ Patrons give virtual reality a go

Birmingham Museums’ Patrons gathered last week for a special private evening viewing of Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds, which is currently on show in the Waterhall at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Thresholds is an exciting new project using the latest virtual reality technology to restage one of the earliest exhibitions of photography in 1839, when British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot first presented his photographic prints to the public at King Edward’s School, then located on Birmingham’s New Street. The building has long since been demolished, and Fox Talbot’s prints either faded beyond recognition or too delicate to be displayed, making Thresholds a really unique opportunity to step back in time, via cutting edge technology.

The event was the latest in a series programmed for the Patrons’ each year, including behind-the-scenes tours and special talks from Museum experts. With many of the evening’s guests never having experienced any kind of virtual reality before, there was plenty of excitement and a little bit of trepidation about what was in store. The group was lucky to be joined by Pete James, one of the collaborators on Thresholds and an expert in photographic history, who told us more about the background of the project and what to expect. 

A whole host of special equipment is needed to experience Thresholds; a backpack, goggles and headphones – at least everyone looks equally silly! Once kitted up by our specially trained front of house team what at first appeared to be a plain white room becomes a stunning atmospheric recreation of the period surroundings of the King Edward’s School. The patrons’ who attended on the evening explored the space of the exhibition, ‘picking up’ the photographs and listening to the sound of the Chartist rioters on the streets outside.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even if it a few did feel a bit jelly-legged when they re-emerged in the real world. It was a fantastic opportunity to be immersed in a little known part of Birmingham’s history. 

Mat Collishaw’s Threholds is open Thursday to Sunday until 6 August.

If you would like to know more about Birmingham Museums’ Patrons’ scheme please visit our Support Us page, call the Development Office on 0121 348 8293 or email