World’s leading collection on the art of photography to be created at the V&A

A Sea of Steps, 1903, by Frederick Henry Evans (1853-1943). Image No. 10550850. Source No.: 2003-5001_2_23326. © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

A Sea of Steps, 1903, by Frederick Henry Evans (1853-1943). Image No. 10550850. Source No.: 2003-5001_2_23326. © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

An historic agreement between the Science Museum Group (SMG) and the V&A is set to create the world’s foremost collection on the art of photography.

More than 400,000 objects from SMG’s three-million-strong photography collection, held at the National Media Museum, will be transferred to the V&A. These photographs will join the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 photographs to create an International Photography Resource Centre. The new Centre will provide the public with a worldclass facility to access this consolidated collection, which will become the single largest collection on the art of photography in the world.

The decision represents a reunion for some of these images, which were once part of a single collection at the 19th century South Kensington Museum before it divided into the V&A and the Science Museum. The collection being transferred encompasses exquisite vintage prints, the world’s first negative, unique daguerreotypes and early colour photographs, as well as important albums, books, cameras and the archives of major photographers. At its heart is the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, which charts the invention and development of photography over the last two centuries.

Hands, 1930s. Photograph by Atelier von Behr. Image No. 10455818. © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library

Hands, 1930s. Photograph by Atelier von Behr. Image No. 10455818. © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library

Advertisement with typewriter on desk, c 1927. Image No. 10453156. Inventory No.: 2003-5001_2_21303. Source No.: 2003-5001. © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library

Advertisement with typewriter on desk, c 1927. Image No. 10453156. Inventory No.: 2003-5001_2_21303. Source No.: 2003-5001. © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library

Among the treasures moving to the V&A are works by British pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron. The collection also demonstrates Britain’s role as an international hub for photography, with major holdings by artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. Highlights of the consolidated collection will include Oscar Rejlander’s 1857 ground-breaking composite The Two Ways of Life, Mervyn O’Gorman’s intriguing 1913 autochrome Christina, Yusuf Karsh’s iconic Winston Churchill portrait and Angus McBean’s surreal study of Audrey Hepburn alongside works by contemporary photographers including Martin Parr, Sarah Jones, Susan Derges and Simon Roberts.

Once transferred, the collection will be stored, digitised and made accessible for study. In the short term, the permanent gallery space dedicated to photographs at the V&A will be doubled. A second phase will see the opening of an International Photography Resource Centre to provide unprecedented opportunities for access, collaborative research and education with this unrivalled collection. As part of the agreement, the V&A will work closely with SMG to give access to the transferred collections for future scholarship and exhibitions.

The V&A holds the UK’s national collection of the art of photography, international in scope and ranging from the year of photography’s announcement in 1839 to the present.

Explore Photography in the V&A collections

9 thoughts on “World’s leading collection on the art of photography to be created at the V&A

Cllr Simon Cooke:

I am the Leader of the Opposition on Bradford Council. I’m sure this doesn’t matter a jot but it gives me some credance that maybe – just maybe – you’ll take some note of.

This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism. I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you – all the V&A’s trustees are based in London, many will never have visited Bradford – care not one jot for our heritage and history. I know you are incredibly excited by all this but trust me, you could – had you the guts and vision – have based this new resource centre in the North, in Bradford where they would have been loved and cherished in a way you in London can never understand. We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.

I don’t expect anything to happen. You’ll make some sort of gesture, will utter a few banal platitudes and punch the air because all the collection is where you and your pals can pop round, can show off to visiting dignitaries. A plague on you and your metropolitican cultural fascism.

Yours in rage

Simon Cooke

stephen clark:

I’m not a Councillor, just someone who enjoys seeing photography and lives close to the Media Museum; so I enjoy popping in to see the latest exhibition. Won’t be able to do this now. A bad decision V&A and Science Museum and another ploy to ultimately close one of the Science Museums that are outside London.

Lyndon:

It’s not clear to me what SMG and/or the Media Museum (surely soon to be renamed) get in return
http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/aboutus/pressoffice/2016/january/museum-transfers-photography-collections-to-V-and-A.aspx

Augustin Bousfield:

This raid begins the eventual loss of ‘National’ from the Media Museum. I think you have no understanding of what it means to the city of Bradford. Unfortunately you just confirm what everybody outside the capital knows is the unwritten policy of the large London institutions. I expect similar smash and grabs on other museums across the UK are probably down the line.

Chris Alvi:

I have visited the Media Museum on numerous occasions. It was always thronging with visitors, many of them children. How can stripping the museum of its photography collection be justified? There is no possible benefit to the Media Museum or to Bradford itself. London does not need to plunder the UK for yet more treasures. They already have vaults full of art works and antiquities which are never seen by the public who, in theory own them. What will be next?

V&A:

Thank you for your comments. The National Media Museum in Bradford, which is part of the Science Museum Group (SMG) is refocusing its photography collections to align with its new strategic focus on the science, technology and culture of light and sound. As part of this, the SMG initiated discussions with the V&A about its artistic photography collection. Bringing together this collection – which is around 10% of the SMG’s total photography collection – with the V&A’s collection will maximise its accessibility and logically reunite a divided national resource. The V&A intends to create unprecedented opportunities for the public to see the collection both digitally and physically, for collaborative research, education and for its UK and international touring exhibition programme which in recent years has included photography exhibitions in Bradford and Leeds. The SMG will retain its science and technology photography collections, which number more than two million, for display in its museums.

Augustin Bousfield:

Not sure that’s quite right. Terribly the NMeM hasn’t got enough funding to digitise and administer its own collections and archive, The V&A obviously has, which I think speaks volumes. Although I’m sure the SMG did approach the V and A.

Obviously the SMG has loads of exhibits but however its dressed up, a high profile prestigious collection originally paid for by lottery money has been transferred from Bradford to London, which also means an associated loss of revenue, research and eventual redundancies at the Museum. Accessibility for some.

James:

Aside from local issues (but not to belittle their significance), thinking of wider audiences I will be interested to hear exactly what plans the V&A has to realise its stated intention to “create unprecedented opportunities for the public to see the collection both digitally and physically”. The fact that the Frederick Henry Evans image above is labelled as copyright when it is clearly Public Domain doesn’t exactly fill me with much hope!

Angry Bradford Guy:

What I don’t get is why you cant just leave the North alone. If we didn’t have the South stealing our best bits or clipping our wings every two minutes pulling shit like this(seeing as the Northern Powerhouse office in Sheff is now in London too), maybe the North wouldn’t need a Northern Powerhouse and it would be one already. But nope, London-centrism wins again. Why cant you move Hadrian’s Wall down to the Watford Gap so we can keep the bloody Southerners out instead!!!!

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