Sir Benjamin Stone & the National Photographic Record Association

Sir Benjamin Stone, '"Black Jacks" preserved at Littlecote Wiltshire 1902'. Museum no. E.735-2001

Sir Benjamin Stone, '"Black Jacks" preserved at Littlecote Wiltshire 1902'. Museum no. E.735-2001

In 1897, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, Sir Benjamin Stone (1838–1914) announced the formation of the National Photographic Record Association (NPRA).

Its aim was to record the ancient buildings, folk customs and other 'survivals' of historical interest for the future. The result would be a national memory bank that would foster 'a national pride in the historical associations of the country, or neighbourhood, [or] in family traditions'.

Stone was a Birmingham industrialist, a Member of Parliament, an amateur photographer and a passionate collector of photographs. With his belief in 'straight' record photography, he set the agenda for the NPRA not only administratively but also intellectually and aesthetically.

Of the 5883 photographs that the NPRA deposited at the British Museum between 1897 and 1910, 1532 were by Stone. Six years ago all these were transferred to the V&A, and a small selection could be seen in this display.

The NPRA was part of a much wider photographic survey movement at the end of the 19th century, covering British archaeology, geology and ethnography.

The idea of photographic surveys survives to this day, operating at many levels, from local camera clubs and community projects to the National Monuments Record.

While there are strong elements of nostalgia in the NPRA, it was also dynamic as our Victorian ancestors, like us, used photography to project what they valued about their past into the future.

This text was originally written to accompany the exhibition Festivals, Ceremonies & Customs: Sir Benjamin Stone & the National Photographic Record Association on display at the V&A South Kensington between 26 October 2006 and 14 January 2007.

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