THIS week, the Salisbury Museum launches a major new exhibition that offers a fascinating snapshot of the city – many fascinating snapshots, in fact. The Origins of Photography looks at Salisbury through the lenses of the first generations of photographers to capture the city, between 1839 and 1919.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the exhibition’s curator, the photographic historian Anthony Hamber, as the museum were putting the final touches to the displays before opening up to the public. Anthony, who was born and brought up in Salisbury, first became interested in photography as a teenager. He then went on to study its early development and as part of a PhD used Salisbury as a case study to illustrate its history.

This led Anthony back to Salisbury Library, and a trawl through early copies of the Salisbury Journal for adverts for local photographers. From here he has trawled archives, photography markets and eBay to help track down many of these pictures. The result over several decades is a collection and knowledge that underpins this fascinating exhibition.

Unlike today, when everyone is a photographer with a click of their smartphone, early cameras were much harder to come by. Early processes, such as the daguerreotype, were used under license. To begin with, the size of Salisbury wasn’t large enough to support a professional photographer (research suggests you needed a town or city of at least 30,000 to make viable, with Salisbury less than half this size at the time). Instead, studios were set up in Southampton and Winchester, with one photographer in the latter offering to split the train fare to entice people over from Salisbury.

Commercial photography properly took off after the Great Exhibition in 1851. This was the first major international showcase of photography from all round the world, and really served to capture the public’s imagination. Coupled with patent licenses running out in the early 1850s, photography became more viable as a wider variety of camera types and techniques came onto the market. Anthony’s exhibition showcases that progression well, as well as capturing the moments when Salisbury was captured this way for the first time. The Harnham Mill photograph by William Russell Sedgfield was only taken a couple of decades after Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral painting, but they feel like images from two different eras.

The exhibition also chronicles key events of the era, including the 1906 rail crash and the 1919 Peace Pageant. It’s photographic proof, perhaps, that while the Skripal poisonings might dominate current perceptions of Salisbury, in time they too will settle down, becoming another intriguing chapter in a much longer historical narrative.

The Origins of Photography is at Salisbury Museum from January 19 to May 4.