Before the invention of photography, civil engineers employed topographic artists to record the progression of their projects. Termed "Record Pictures", these illustrations followed the tradition of the Dutch topographical landscapes of the seventeenth century, combining the qualities of detail and clarity with the objectivity of technical drawings. As such, Record Pictures had a scientific rather than an artistic purpose.
This is exactly how photography developed in its infancy. Photography's prime value was regarded as its ability to make highly detailed, objective (and relatively inexpensive) records. Industry was quick to harness the new medium to make record pictures. Significantly, one of the founders of Britain's Photographic Society was a leading civil engineer. This original application gave rise to a genre of landscape photography that has not been properly recognised. Record Pictures: Photographs from the Archive of the Institution of Civil Engineers represents the photographic jewels of arguably the finest collection in Britain. Spanning a period of 75 years from the mid-nineteenth century, the book contains previously unpublished examples drawn from across Europe, Africa, Australasia, the Far East and Latin America. Record Pictures are the unacknowledged foundation of the history of photography. In his introductory essay, the author Michael Collins demonstrates how this fundamental approach continues unchanged, only now it is no longer industry that applies these principles but such eminent artists as Bernd and Hilla Becher and Thomas Struth, proponents of a contemporary art movement.